On Press: When Drag Racing Met Plautus... The JHU Press Sets Its Fall List Mike Giuliano ------------------------------ Special to The Gazette If there exists the sense that a university press is an insular, stuffy alcove within the ivory tower of academia-- publishing scholarly tomes fit only for academic colleagues and graduate students who will be forced to read footnotes for hours- -a glance at the Johns Hopkins Press's fall catalog should change one's impression. Like the university itself, the Press wants to advance knowledge in a dizzying array of subjects. Which is why its editors have no conflict of conscience putting out a book like Nicholas N. Kitterie's The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Contract alongside Karl B. Raitz's more accessible The Theater of Sport, a book about sporting venues. In fact, they like it like that. It's all a part of putting out a seasonal offering of books and journals, a process that's part manuscript availability and part editors' inclinations and gut-level instincts. It's what keeps the publishing business interesting and surprising for the 110 staff members who work to publish close to 200 books a year (among them 140 new titles annually) and 48 scholarly journals. The large scale of the operation didn't happen overnight. The Hopkins Press, the oldest university press in continuous operation in North America, was founded by the university's first president--Daniel Coit Gilman--in 1878 with the publication of the first issue of The American Journal of Mathematics, which is still published today. At the time of its founding, Gilman said, "It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures--but far and wide." Press officials, who now occupy four floors in the church building once used by SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church at 2715 N. Charles St., take Gilman's challenge to heart. "The Press had been doing mostly scholarly monographs," says Robert J. Brugger, an acquisition editor who has been with the Press since 1989. "The idea going back to the late 1970s has been to try to reach a wider audience, too, with regional, natural history and environmental issues. It has worked out very well for us." Brugger and others stress their criteria for deciding what to publish doesn't preclude a book about drag strip racing, written by a Smithsonian curator, but admittedly their emphasis still runs primarily to the scholarly. Among the various academic fields it plumbs, the social sciences account for more than half the titles on the publication list with a press run of around 1,000 copies each. But the cornucopia of general interest books usually have press runs from 5,000 to 10,000 copies. Indeed, the Press has done well with a book on American gas stations that has sold 6,991 copies. High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, 1950-1990 has sold 5,903 copies. Of course, such figures are a mere trickle compared to the torrent of sales generated by a mega-successful health title like Staying Dry: A Practical Guide to Bladder Control, by Kathryn L. Burgio, K. Lynette Pearce and Angelo J. Lucco, which has sold 127,000 copies since it was published in 1989. There is no way, really, to predict what will be a financially successful book, nor is that truly the Press's concern. "We don't have stockholders to please, only scholars," says Douglas Armato, associate director and manager of the book publishing division. "A lot of the books we land come from our scholarly standing. Our reputation is more for solidity than for flash. We're proud of that." Manuscripts under consideration go through a chain of readers--among them acquisition editors, outside readers, an in-house review committee and a faculty editorial board--and that chain of approval and the subsequent editing and publication design explain why it takes at least a year from submission of the manuscript until publication. Armato says that the Press's acquisition editors are crucial in determining which book projects to nurse toward publication. Brugger, for instance, is the Press's history and regional books editor. Himself a respected historian--his Maryland, A Middle Temperament, 1634-1980 was published by the Press in 1988-- Brugger brought his awareness of local scholarly activity with him when he joined the Press in 1989. In addition to receiving the many unsolicited manuscripts that fill an editor's day, he also solicits manuscripts from scholars he suspects might have a Hopkins Press book knocking around in their brain. "I get people who are doing things I like and try to get them to send their manuscripts to us," Brugger says. "It isn't within my powers to get stuff at a particular time, though. I can't be sure I'll receive a manuscript in August for publication a year later, but there are authors I'm working with, and the list [the fall and spring catalogs] is made up of what we've been able to harvest." Increasingly, Brugger's harvest has included books of particular interest to Marylanders, as in this fall's collection of columns by Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker, titled Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home. Other works sown for the fall season include Wrong Medicine, by Lawrence J. Schneiderman and Nancy S. Jecker, a book on medical ethics. Should you have an interest in railroading, the A to Z and the B&O of it are discussed in James E. Vance Jr.'s The North American Railroad: Its Origin, Evolution and Geography. If you'd prefer women's history, try Margaret W. Rossiter's Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940- 1972. On the ethnic history front, the new book season brings The New York Irish, edited by Ronald H. Bayor and Timothy J. Meagher. The numerous other topics on the fall 1995 list include the Supreme Court nomination process; a photographic history of Washington, D.C.; poetry by Thomas Carper; trips along five rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay; comedies by the Roman playwright Plautus; and cerebral palsy. "We think of ourselves as one press, but in reality we publish for a lot of different small constituencies," Armato says. "Every constituency will find something on the fall 1995 list, and we try to keep each season's list consistent in that way."
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