The Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 28, 2003
April 28, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 32


125 Years of Scholarly Publishing

JHU Press' celebration begins with Greenblatt talk on Wednesday

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The tale of the Johns Hopkins University Press can, more or less, be neatly broken into two halves. Pre-World War II, the university's press existed much as founding President Daniel Coit Gilman had envisioned, as a vehicle purely for the transmission of knowledge born at Johns Hopkins, or as the "third leg of the stool"--the first two being faculty and the library. Quite literally, in the Press' early days, campus lectures would find their way onto the pages of the Press' journals and/or books to be, as Gilman put it, "diffused far and wide."

From the mid-1940s on, however, the Press has led a more varied and colorful existence, marked by growth spurts, relocations, invention and the occasional industry crisis. Yet, throughout its illustrious history, the Press has remained true to its original mission to publish professional, scholarly works.

Johns Hopkins University Press director Jim Jordan in the library that holds a copy of every book published by the Press since it was founded 125 years ago.

This year the nation's oldest continuously operating university press celebrates its 125th birthday. (While Cornell University Press predated the JHU Press by nine years, it closed in 1884, not to be reopened for 46 years.) To honor its milestone occasion, Johns Hopkins University Press will host a series of events beginning on Wednesday with a lecture at Homewood by Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt, who will discuss scholarly publishing and the humanities [see below].

Other events set for the anniversary year include an expanded exhibit at the Baltimore Book Festival, an open house at the Press' Charles Street headquarters and the G. Harry Pouder Memorial Lecture, which this year will be given by acclaimed author E.L. Doctorow and hosted by President William R. Brody and his wife, Wendy. A collection of Doctorow's screenplays was recently published by the Press.

James Jordan, who became the Press' director in 1998, said that the Press has grown from its relatively simple beginnings into one of the largest and most diverse publishing programs of its kind, of which there are currently only 120 nationwide.

"For us, this anniversary provides an opportunity to take stock and look at what the Press has done. A 125th-year celebration is a special achievement, not just for the Press and Johns Hopkins but for the industry as a whole," Jordan said. "This being the first press, and one that has managed to continue to publish in a self-sustaining way for as long as we have, is an important achievement. We want to recognize what has made that possible and continue to strengthen publishing as an enterprise within a university."

Founded in 1878 at the behest of Gilman, the Press began its life as the Publishing Agency, an entity created to provide scholarly journals for the fledgling Johns Hopkins and its faculty. Its first publication was the American Journal of Mathematics, whose editor in chief was J.J. Sylvester, the university's first professor of mathematics. AJM, which is still published today, was soon followed by the American Chemical Journal and the American Journal of Philology, begun by founding faculty member and renowned classicist Basil L. Gildersleeve.

Tapped as the Publishing Agency's first manager was Nicholas Murray, who was already the university's head librarian. In fact, the Publishing Agency's first home was a very modest space inside the library on Johns Hopkins' original, downtown campus. When the university relocated to Homewood, the publisher was moved into the basement of Gilman Hall, where it remained until 1961.

In 1881, the Publishing Agency published its first book, Sidney Lanier: A Memorial Tribute, to honor the poet who was one of the university's first writers in residence. Ten years later, the Agency became the Johns Hopkins Press. Its name changed again in 1972, becoming the Johns Hopkins University Press.

To date, the Press has published more than 5,000 titles and a wide variety of scholarly journals. Along the way, the Press and its publications have garnered a slew of awards, the first major one being the Pulitzer Prize received in 1927 by Samuel Flagg Bemis for his historical work Pinkney's Treaty. Other landmark works put out by the Press include Essays in the History of Ideas by A.O. Lovejoy (1948), Duty, Honor, Country by Stephen E. Ambrose (1966), the 21-volume Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower (1970-2001) and more recently, Charles D. Michner's Bees of the World (2000), which won the R.R. Hawkins Award, and Deep Souths, a Pulitzer Prize finalist by J. William Harris (2001).

Jack Goellner, who served as the Press' director from 1974 to 1995, said that when he joined the Press as sales and advertising manager in 1961, its annual output was a modest 28 books and five journals, compared to the 54 journals and roughly 150 books it publishes today.

Up until the mid- to late-1940s, Goellner said, most of what the Press published was written by Johns Hopkins faculty. However, under the leadership of his predecessor, Harold E. Ingle, the director from 1948 until 1974, the organization began to spread its wings and commission more outside authors, at the same time expanding the range of books.

In addition to scholarly journals and monographs, the Press now publishes works for a general audience, including health, regional history and trade reference books.

Goellner credits Marie Hansen, former journals manager and later associate director, for elevating the Press' stature and output.

"She built up the journals division to where, when she retired a few years ago, the Press was publishing more journals than any other press in the country," he said.

Goellner said Hansen was also "directly responsible" for the Press' largest innovation to date, the creation of Project Muse. Launched in 1995, Project Muse provides worldwide online institutional subscription access to the full text of more than 220 scholarly journals in the arts and humanities, social sciences and mathematics.

Jordan said the "thriving" project, with more than 1,000 subscribers, has become a model for collaboration between publishers and libraries.

"It has changed from being purely a publication vehicle for the Press into this collaborative effort where we are publishing journals of 25 other presses," Jordan said. "There is a long history of innovation here, and this has clearly been one of our biggest success stories."

The state of the Press isn't all rosy, however.

Today, Jordan said, university publishers are faced with dwindling sales and price resistance in their journal and monograph divisions, due mainly to cutbacks in the budgets of libraries nationwide.

"Overall, university press publishing is not in great shape right now," Jordan said. "That is why we are working a lot harder to strengthen our journal publications and reinvent ourselves where we can."

Goellner, who oversaw the Press through a dark time during his tenure, said the Press has a long history of survival. When many other presses were closing their doors in the 1970s due to cutbacks of support from their parent universities, he said, the Press remained viable due in part to its unique independence--the Press receives no direct subsidies from the university.

"When tough times came and other publishers had $300,000 to $500,000 taken out of their operating budgets, we got by because we generated the income ourselves," he said. "We have maintained a wonderful relationship with the university that allows us many freedoms."

In 1993, the Press moved into its first and current permanent home at 2715 N. Charles St., the former site of Saints Philip and James Church. The Press had previously been housed temporarily on York Road, in Homewood's Whitehead Hall and in what is currently Zurich headquarters on Keswick Road.

Looking ahead to the future, today's staff see both challenges and promise.

Lee Sioles, managing editor, said the reputation of the Press is such that both new and established authors continue to seek it out.

"I've been here for 12 years and through three directors, and the one thing that's stayed the same is the very high quality of the imprint," Sioles said. "Our authors are smart, our books are full of cutting-edge ideas, and I never know what interesting new work is about to show up on my desk."

Jacqueline C. Wehmueller, an executive editor at the Press, said the division has been blessed with "creative problem solvers who manage to get through the hard times."

"It's evident in the range of projects that we do," she said. "We always find a way to publish important books--books that help people live better, bring people's attention to important issues, fill in a piece of scholarship that has been overlooked or bring a new perspective to something that has already been looked at."

Jordan said that when he comes to work each day and sees the desire and creativity that emanate from the Press' 126 employees, he knows it is in good hands.

"This place will be here in 125 years if the university is here; I really believe that," Jordan said. "Publishing is such an integral, central part of what a powerful university does. Our challenge is always to be more relevant, to be more of an engine for the transmission of knowledge. It's what we do."

Stephen Greenblatt on
Scholarly Publishing

As part of the Johns Hopkins University Press' 125th anniversary celebration, Harvard University professor Stephen Greenblatt will give a lecture titled "Scholarly Publishing: The Legacy, The Future," at noon on Wednesday, April 30, in Homewood's Shriver Hall Auditorium.

Greenblatt's lecture will address the continuing contribution of university presses to the intellectual life of the United States and the historic role of scholarly presses as trusted sources of knowledge and new ideas.

Greenblatt, the Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, is the founder of the "new historicism" school of literary criticism and a specialist in Shakespeare, 16th- and 17th-century English literature, the literature of travel and exploration, and literary theory. He has written 10 books and dozens of articles and is general editor of The Norton Shakespeare and associate general editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature. He also serves on the editorial and advisory boards of numerous journals.

He has received research funding from several prestigious sources, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Museum and the American Council of Learned Societies, and is the recipient of the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association of America, the British Council Prize in the Humanities and the Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award. Greenblatt has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has served as president of the MLA. He holds degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Harvard, where he is one of 19 University Professors, the university's highest professorial distinction.

This lecture is part of the Wednesday Noon Series presented by the university's Office of Special Events and is co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Press. For more information, call 410-516-7157.