Christie Henry on Shaping History–Through Books

The founder of the antecedent of Black History Month, Carter Woodson, astutely noted that “the mere imparting of information is not education.”  Adapting these profound words to the realm of publishing, publishers recognize that the mere imparting of information is not publishing.  In an era of an abundance of information, of words on the print and digital page, it is ever more vital for us to curate, with intention, a list of publications that educates and inspires.  As a University Press publisher, the education we commit to for our readers (and audio book listeners) is a publishing grounded in information that is transformed—through author intelligence and curiosity, the insights of peer review, and the art and science of book making, publicity and marketing, and sales—and, ideally, transformative in its impact and endurance. 

The books we are celebrating this month embody that transformative impact, and in doing so also contribute in meaningful and enduring ways to one of the key tenets of Black History month, to teach the history of Black America.  As books remain a vital component of teaching, and learning, this month is a critical time for publishers to reflect on our responsibility as partners in the pedagogical endeavor, and the narrative we shape with the books we publish.  We join our many peers in the university press, #ReadUP community, in a shared commitment to enrich knowledge about race, identity, society, history, politics and the arts—inspired by our authors and the university communities in which we thrive.

In December, NYU University Press author Safiya Umoja Noble visited Princeton University Press to talk about our role in offering a platform to as wide a population of scholarship as there are voices and minds, particularly in our responsibility as an interlocutor between the academy and the wider culture of reading and knowledge.  Peer review is the foundational element of this university press platform, and it shapes each of the books we publish, as does the editorial board that governs our peer review. 

We also commit to the tenets of peer review in assessing our own decisions as publishers.  Just as most authors take great pride (rightfully!) in the manuscripts they submit for peer review, so too are we incredibly proud of the list of nearly 10,000 titles Princeton University Press has published.  But we also know how critical it is to iterate, in the way every manuscript does, guided by a close and constructive scrutiny of that publications list.   When assessed against current cultural contexts and priorities, in the way that a manuscript’s references are held accountable to current scholarship, we recognize that we can grow from criticism, and benefit from revision, to bring more voices and perspectives to our list, and to broaden its intellectual impact and horizons.  I find myself incredibly inspired by another #ReadUP author, Hanif Abdurraqib, whose Go Ahead in the Rain is publishing this month at the University of Texas Press, “A big reason I write is rooted in the idea of building relationships”: the big reason we publish is rooted in the idea (and joy) of building relationships.

As we peer review our publications program, and celebrate in particular the ways in books about the African American experience have shaped that program, we are guided by Woodson’s enduring mantra that we need “a history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”  Our press is committed to books that shape that history, and inspire and educate through scholarship, creativity and collaboration.

–Christie Henry, Director