Darrin Pratt: Mission Possible

Colorado

This post by director of the University Press of Colorado and president of the Association of American University Presses Darrin Pratt appears concurrently on the University Press of Colorado blog.

In a previous post, I wrote about the minor miracle continually performed by the membership of the Association of American University Presses, a miracle that involves taking a relatively small annual budget and multiplying that budget until it becomes substantially larger. University presses, I observed, collectively receive an annual budget that would support the publication of roughly 900 scholarly monographs annually, based on an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation–funded ITHAKA S+R study of the average publication cost of a monograph. In reality, university presses create enough additional revenue from the starting budget they are given to produce over 6,000 books annually,1 or roughly seven times the number of books supported directly by their institutional budgets.

In this previous post, I acknowledged the fact that not all of those 6,000 or more titles were scholarly monographs in the narrowest sense of the term. There remained some question regarding the proportion of that combined output that comprised the specialized studies that have been at the core of university press programs from the beginning. Fortunately, thanks again to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we can now address that question through the data contained in their recently released study, Monograph Output of American University Presses, 2009–2013 by Joseph J. Esposito and Karen Barch.

To wit, over the five-year period covered in the study data collected, university presses published 14,619 scholarly monographs, or an average of 2,924 per year.2 In terms of mission, we collectively published over three scholarly monographs annually for every one book that we were actually paid to produce.3 And as Esposito and Barch’s data indicate, monographic title output as a percentage of total title output was 49 percent from 2009 to 2013 for the sixty-five presses that reported to the study.4 

Our value proposition, however, gets even better if you consider expanding beyond the definition of monograph employed by the study authors. The study defined monographs as “books which are written by scholars and researchers and which are intended primarily for other scholars and researchers” (using John Thompson’s definition in Books in the Digital Age),5 but excluded books that are “collections of essays, even if the essays are all by a single author.” In certain fields, particularly emerging fields and subfields, edited collections of essays that constitute original scholarship are quite common. If we use Thompson’s original definition, without excluding edited collections, my own press’s 2009–2013 output of original scholarly works as a percentage of the total jumps from 42% to 67% (from data returned to University Press of Colorado by Esposito and Barch).

Although I only have my own press data at hand, most press directors estimate a similar proportion of their list is made up of original scholarship, somewhere between 67 and 75 percent, as noted by Esposito and Barch.6 If, let’s say, roughly 70 percent of our combined output is, in fact, original works of scholarship more broadly defined, then we collectively publish almost five works of original scholarship for every one work we are given the budget to produce.7

As for the other 30 percent? Although they are not necessarily publications of primary or original scholarship, most—albeit not quite all—are all nonetheless built upon primary or original scholarship and communicate more broadly to students and the public the knowledge being generated every day by researchers at colleges and universities across the country. This other 30 percent includes textbooks, crossover titles that inform public debate on important policy questions, regional history and natural history titles, and important reference works, all of which do more than their fair share to ensure that we can multiply one paid-for work of original scholarship into five.

Of course, the previous paragraph suggests that the titles that are in this “other” 30 percent are published more for money than mission, with the further implication that they have little to contribute to research agendas in their fields. And, truth be told, university presses will occasionally publish coffee table books, cookbooks, or the like with the primary intention of bringing in revenue to support their scholarly publishing programs. But the vast majority of all books published by university presses are mission-driven products that have been rigorously peer-reviewed, including our text, crossover, and regional titles that sometimes make substantial scholarly contributions. As Peter Dougherty and Al Bertrand have written elsewhere, in 1922 Princeton University Press published a book of public lectures delivered the previous year. The work was not a monograph in the strict sense: rather, it was a scholarly work since read by generations of scientists and nonscientists alike. The lecturer was Albert Einstein, and the book was The Meaning of Relativity.

In the final analysis, whether we consider monographs as only those works narrowly defined by Esposito and Barch, expand our definition of original scholarship (following Thompson), or include other publications like crossover books, textbooks, or regional titles, the fact is that university presses play a vital role in cultivating and distributing works of serious scholarship. In a world of alternative facts and fake news, we continue to carry the torch for research, for scholarship, for facts, and for truth.


1. The source of the figure cited here is the 2012–2015 Annual Operating Statistics Survey of the Association of American University Presses and compiles data from sixty-seven reporting presses excluding Cambridge and Oxford. Esposito and Barch’s report also excludes title output data from Cambridge and Oxford. Return to text.

2. Joseph J. Esposito and Karen Barch, Monograph Output of American University Presses, 2009–2013: A Report Prepared for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2017), 32 (data table). Return to text.

3. 2,924 ÷ 900 = 3.25. Return to text.

4. Don’t go looking for the 49 percent figure in the Esposito and Barch report, because you will not find it there. The number can be calculated, however, using the data they present. I derived the 49 percent by dividing the total number of monograph editions published (28,625) by the total number of all editions published (58,555). I excluded Esposito and Barch’s extrapolations from the original data in making this calculation. See Esposito and Barch, Monograph Output, 32 (data table). Return to text.

5. John Thompson, Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 103. Return to text.

6. See the discussion of university press estimates in Esposito and Barch, Monograph Output, 41. Return to text.

7. (6,000 × 70%) ÷ 900 = 4.67. Note that the Esposito and Barch do not de-duplicate total editions to drill down to the total books published in the same fashion that they de-duplicate editions to derive unique (“primary”) monographs published. Their report therefore contains no total unique/primary books published figure. That said, their data strongly suggests that number to be an average of roughly 6,000 (5,984) unique books per year. This number is an estimate drawing from the data table on page 32, where the proportion of unique monographs to monograph editions is 14,619/28,625, or 51.1%. Presuming a similar proportion of books/editions in the total figure, 51.1% × 58,555 total editions = 29,922 unique books ÷ 5 years = 5,984 unique books annually. Return to text.

PUP math editor Vickie Kearn: How real mathematicians celebrate Pi Day

Who doesn’t love Pi (aka Pie) Day? Residents here in Princeton, NJ love it so much that we spend four days celebrating. Now, to be honest, we’re also celebrating Einstein’s birthday, so we do need the full four days. I know what I will be doing on 3.14159265 but I wondered what some of my friends will be doing. Not surprisingly, a lot will either be making or eating pie. These include Oscar Fernandez (Wellesley), Ron Graham (UCSD), and Art Benjamin (who will be performing his mathemagics show later in the week). Anna Pierrehumbert (who teaches in NYC) will be working with upper school students on a pi recitation and middle school students on making pi-day buttons. Brent Ferguson (The Lawrenceville School) has celebrated at The National Museum of Mathematics in NYC, Ireland, Greece, and this year Princeton. Here he is celebrating in Alaska:

Pi

The Princeton University Math Club will be celebrating with a party in Fine Hall. In addition to eating pie and playing games, they will have a digit reciting contest. Tim Chartier (Davidson College) will be spending his time demonstrating how to estimate pi with chocolate chips while also fielding interview requests for his expert opinion on March Madness (a lot going on this month for mathematicians). Dave Richeson (Dickinson College) goes to the local elementary school each year and talks with the fifth graders about pi and its history and then eats creatively rendered pi themed pie provided by the parents.

You might be wondering why we celebrate a mathematical constant every year. How did it get to be so important? Again I went back to my pi experts and asked them to tell me the most important uses of pi. This question is open to debate by mathematicians but many think that the most important is Euler’s Identity, e(i*pi) + 1 = 0. As Jenny Kaufmann (President of the Princeton University Math Club) puts it, “Besides elegantly encoding the way that multiplication by i results in a rotation in the complex plane, this identity unites what one might consider the five most important numbers in a single equation. That’s pretty impressive!” My most practical friend is Oscar and here is what he told me: “There are so many uses for pi, but given my interest in everyday explanations of math, here’s one I like: If you drive to work every day, you take many, many pi’s with you. That’s because the circumference of your car’s tires is pi multiplied by the tires’ diameter. The most common car tire has a diameter of about 29 inches, so one full revolution covers a distance of about 29 times pi (about 7.5 feet). Many, many revolutions of your tires later you arrive at work, with lots and lots of pi’s!” Anna is also practical in that she will be using pi to calculate the area of the circular pastry she will be eating, but she also likes the infinite series for pi (pi/4 = 1 – 1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 etc.). Avner Ash (Boston College) sums it up nicely, “ We can’t live without pi—how would we have circles, normal distributions, etc.?”

One of the most important questions one asks on Pi Day is how many digits can you recite? The largest number I got was 300 from the Princeton Math Club. However, there are quite a few impressive numbers from others, as well as some creative answers and ways to remember the digits. For example, Oscar can remember 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 because it was an epic Day and Pi Time for him. Art Benjamin can recite 100 digits from a phonetic code and 5 silly sentences. Ron Graham can recite all of the digits of pi, even thousands, as long as they don’t have to be in order. Dave Richeson also knows all of the digits of pi which are 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,and 9.

No matter how you celebrate, remember math, especially pi(e) is useful, fun, and delicious.

Vickie Kearn is Executive Editor of Mathematics at Princeton University Press.

An interview with Pamela Schnitter, member of the Book, Jacket & Journal Committee

The Book, Jacket, and Journal Show is a juried design competition, open only to AAUP member publishers. Every fall the call-for-entries is distributed, and in January, the jurors gather in AAUP’s New York offices to examine hundreds of submissions and select the very best examples of book, journal, and cover designs. The Book, Jacket & Journal Committee comprises seven members who are charged with selecting judges for the AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, soliciting donations of paper and printing for the call for entries, as well as the catalog and the award certificates. The committee members are also responsible for designing the call for entries, the web theme, the catalog, the signage, and the awards certificate itself. Chris Lapinski, Design Coordinator at PUP, interviewed Pamela Schnitter, a designer and member of the Book, Jacket & Journal Committee.

Pam Schnitter

Judges discussing submissions. From left to right: Kimberly Glyder, Henk van Assen, Daphne Geismar, Benjamin Shaykin

 

What inspired you to join the Committee?

I was determined to keep the show vibrant and current, especially in terms of publishing e-books and thinking of additional award categories, such as marketing and web design. It might be too early to implement a straight e-book design category — that seems to be out of our hands currently — but maybe in the future. As the publishing world evolves, I strongly believe there are other categories we need to think about in order to remain relevant and vibrant.

What was your most challenging responsibility?

The most challenging responsibility was also the most rewarding, and that was selecting the jurors. They had to be from outside the AAUP community, though they didn’t necessarily have to be designers. So I had to do a lot of research. I reviewed portfolios and websites, read letters of recommendation. It was very tricky because of the pressure to get the right people.

Did you have any preferences?

I felt that some of the jurors should be teachers because of their experience in assessing other designers’ work and giving good feedback. I also wanted individuals with a cutting edge and inspirational style. As it turned out, all except one were teachers. We tried to select a broad range of individuals from the East Coast and the West Coast, though we ended up with a significant number of jurors from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]. Most had a background in trade publishing.

Did you notice that trade designers had a different outlook than university press designers?

No, I think the two worlds have really come together.

What was the most gratifying part of your experience?

Working with others in the AAUP community, and particularly with other designers, both within AAUP and outside. Learning from them, sharing new ideas about design — that was especially rewarding. And then seeing how it all came together — it was fun watching the jurors get along so well.

Were there any interesting lessons you learned?

When designers become judges, I realized how important it is to give them space to form their own opinions. I felt they should be unhindered in making the best and most honest assessment of other people’s work.

Do you recommend that others consider joining the committee?

Absolutely. It’s great to have contact with other designers and to share our experiences. It’s also a commitment: the committee requests that you stay on for a few years to learn the responsibilities of being a member and to make the transition easier. That’s something to take into consideration, but it’s worthwhile.

Snapping photos at dinner after panel discussion. From left to right: Daphne Geismar, Benjamin Shaykin, Kimberly Glyder, Henk van Assen

Frankfurt Book Fair by the Numbers

As a global publisher actively expanding our international community, Princeton University Press was proud to send an entourage of 12 staff from the editorial, marketing, sales, and publicity teams to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair last month. A veritable grand dame of book fairs, Frankfurt lasts over a period of 5 days and this year received 227,000 visitors from the public and trade alike.

Frankfurt Book Fair

Jenny Redhead, Kim Williams, and Caroline Priday from PUP’s European office

Three plucky, courageous, some might say superhuman (I’ll stop there) colleagues from the International Rights team made the annual pilgrimage to the Buchmesse to share our latest and forthcoming titles with publishers and agents from around the world. The team presented forthcoming books from our Spring 2017 list in our beautifully designed rights guide by Heather Hansen from PUP’s design team.

IMG_0311

We exhausted our ability to speak while talking about our fabulous forthcoming books, so here is a Frankfurt by numbers for those of you who haven’t experienced the magic for yourselves:

  • 4 days of meetings
  • 90 appointments
  • 150 business cards
  • Publishers from 22 countries
  • 14: the highest number of people who turned up for one 30-minute meeting
  • 150 freshly printed rights guides
  • 30 new titles
  • 86 PUP books discussed
  • Umpteen coffees
  • 712: the number of pages in the longest book in the rights guide
  • 4: the number of cocktail parties we missed because we were in back to back appointments
  • 6: the number of copies of Welcome to the Universe that were stolen from the stand on the first day
  • Ten compliments on our fabulous cover designs
  • Three: the number of cheek kisses one is expected to offer to publishers in Europe, except in the UK where a firm handshake is quite friendly enough, thank you
  • One: the number of PUP rights professionals who got lost in the agent’s centre on the way to a meeting
  • 0: the number of times part of the stand fell on someone’s head (take that, Frankfurt 2014)
  • And 1 GLORIOUS lunch hour

What are your favourite book fair moments? We’d love to hear from you!

IMG_0309

–Kimberly Williams, International Rights Director

Why a University Press Is a Good Investment

This post by Darrin Pratt appears concurrently on the University Press of Colorado blog.

There’s a minor miracle continually performed by the 142 university presses worldwide who compose the membership of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP). It involves taking a relatively small annual budget and multiplying that budget until it becomes substantially larger. The consequence is that these same presses are able to deliver quite a bit more on their mission as nonprofit scholarly publishers than their institutional allocations directly support.

In 2015, 67 participating US and Canadian university presses (slightly less than half the membership of the Association of American University Presses and excluding the two largest, Cambridge and Oxford) reported receiving a collective institutional budget that was just shy of $28 million.*

From that $28 million, these 67 presses generated $261.5 million in book sales. After the cost of sales (direct costs such as print costs and royalty payments) is deducted, roughly $156 million is left for presses to spend on acquiring, peer reviewing, editing, designing, producing, and, importantly, marketing the books they published in 2015. Thus, they increased a starting budget of $28 million to a budget of $184 million, a pretty remarkable increase in support of their collective mission to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge through the publication of high-quality scholarly books and related projects. There are not many university departments that can claim comparable results.

Recently, ITHAKA S+R published a report on book publishing costs at university presses, which showed that these costs are not insubstantial. Don Waters of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation references this report in a recent article in Against the Grain, averaging the ITHAKA S+R figures with those from another study at Indiana University and University of Michigan to come up with a round cost of $30,000 per scholarly monograph published, excluding any direct costs (print costs, royalties). This is not the number for what it costs to publish a monograph, as the ITHAKA report clearly demonstrates, but it is an easy-to-understand, handy-for-back-of-the-napkin-calculations number at a level most university presses would consider to be in the ballpark.

So let’s revisit the budget sources above with that number in mind. If university presses had to rely on institutional infusions alone, the $28 million budget provided to them would allow them to publish roughly 900 scholarly monographs, a fairly underwhelming collective output.

Because of the income that they are able to produce from that starting budget, though, the magnified pool of approximately $184 million should allow the 67 reporting presses to publish just over 6,000 new titles, using the cost number proposed by Waters. In fact, these 67 presses reported publishing more than 6,400 titles in 2015, or roughly seven times the 900 books supported directly by their parent institutions. Not all of these 6,400 new books were scholarly monographs in the narrowest sense of the term, but virtually all of them were driven by academic research and communicate those findings to a variety of audiences inside and outside academia.

Expanding budgets—and, consequently, scholarly output—is not the only institutional augmentation that university presses perform. They are also great at brand extension. Although many presses publish in disciplines that reflect the strengths of their home institution, they just as frequently publish in areas that the home institution is not known for, and the university brand benefits from this exposure. In addition, top research universities increasingly describe their missions as international or global in scope. University presses, through ebook aggregations that sell monographs to libraries, have placed over 40,000 book titles alongside journals in ProjectMUSE and JSTOR collections that are accessible in up to 50 countries. This represents truly global dissemination of research for institutions with global missions. This brand extension, as we see, is multifaceted. And you get all of this, at least in this particular sample of the AAUP membership, for a mere $28 million spread across 67 sponsoring institutions.

In the world of research university budgets, that is an awfully good deal.


*The source of the figures cited here is the 2012–2015 Annual Operating Statistics Survey of the Association of American University Presses.


Darrin Pratt is the director of the University Press of Colorado and the current president of the Association of American University Presses.

Michelle Komie on PUP’s Art & Architecture list and #Archtober 2016

Throughout October, PUP will be offering a nod to Archtober, NYC’s month-long celebration of architecture and design, with features on our blog and social media. Today, we have a special message from our Art & Architecture editor, Michelle Komie: 

Princeton University Press has been publishing in architectural, urban, and design history for decades, stretching back to such classic titles as Otto von Simson’s The Gothic Cathedral (1956), Nikolaus Pevsner’s History of Building Types (1976), and Neil Levine’s The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (1996). I’m so happy to have the opportunity to reinvigorate this very distinguished list. Our recently published titles exemplify the highest quality of scholarship by some of the leading figures in the field. In honor of Archtober, I want to focus on a few new books that look at the importance of architecture and design in everyday life.

Bloom LasnerMatt Lasner’s and Nick Bloom’s Affordable Housing in New York looks at the innovative ways the city has helped its residents to live, from the 1920s through today. There will never be enough affordable housing, but New York has done more than almost any other city to try to meet the demand. This book brings the fascinating, complicated array of people, places, and debates to life.

Barbara Miller Lane looks at the unsung figures in American mid-century housing in Houses for a New World: the anonymous architect-builders responsible for the design and construction of the tract houses of America’s postwar suburbs. This is the story of the largest experiment in mass housing in American history, and of the ranch and bi-level houses that so many of us grew up in.Lane

Charles Waldheim’s Landscape as Urbanism looks at the history of the urban landscape projects that are helping to shape cities around the globe, ranging from Wright’s Broadacre City and Mies’s Lafayette Park (Detroit) to major projects around the globe by Adriaan Geuze/West 8, James Corner/Field Operations, and Michael Van Valkenburgh urbanismAssociates, among many others. It’s a compelling and important argument: landscape, more than buildings, has changed the way cities urbanize in the 21st century.

Despina Stratigakos’s Where are the Women Architects? is the first title in our new series with Places Journal, Places Books, and provides a provocative look at the history and future of Stratigakoswomen in the profession.

Next year is the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, and MoMA is taking the opportunity to look again at his work and career with a major exhibition opening in June of 2017. Last year, we published Neil Levine’s superb The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright, and we’ll be publishing Kathryn Smith’s Wright on Exhibit, the definitive history of Wright’s exhibitions, next spring.

LevineThere are many more outstanding titles to come in architecture, urbanism, and design over the next several years. I’m especially excited about a major new urban history of San Francisco by Alison Isenberg, and another on Brooklyn by Tom Campanella, to come in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Happy #Archtober, and happy reading in the meantime!

 

 

Michelle Komie
Executive Editor, Art & Architecture

We had something to crow about at the British Birdwatching Fair!

by Julia Hall, Senior Publicist in the UK

BirdsThe British Birdwatching Fair is one of the world’s leading wildlife conventions—described by the Guardian as ‘the Glastonbury of birdwatching.’ Not even the rain and high winds could deter many thousands from attending this year’s Fair which took place from August 19-21 at Rutland Water. While birds are the headline attraction, this is an event for all nature-lovers with hundreds of exhibitors including many specialist natural history organizations covering the full range of flora and fauna.

This year, we were excited to launch Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland. The book has already created intense buzz among UK birders – including an interview with Rob Hume on the BBC Today Programme.

Princeton University Press was there showing off a wide range of our natural history titles, including Britain’s Birds. Our stand stood out with its flying banner overhead (fortunately Andrew Brewer, Managing Director of our European sales team, didn’t have to find a long ladder and teeter above us to hang it as we feared) and people flocked to browse through Britain’s Birds, ask questions about Britain’s Birds, buy Britain’s Birds, and get their copies signed if any of the authors were at hand!

Britain's Birds

Everyone connected with the book: authors, designers, photographers, as well as sales, publicity, and editorial team members were to be seen swanning about the Fair wearing special Britain’s Birds polo shirts.

Britain's Birds

The Fair includes a special Authors Forum which is sponsored by PUP.  Rob Hume, the main writer of the Britain’s Birds text, gave a well-attended talk in the Forum on each day of the Fair. This was followed by a long signing session at the Fair’s main bookshop WildSounds.  For over an hour each day people queued to get their copies signed by the authors.

We also celebrated the launch of this magnificent book with a drinks reception at the stand on the Friday, beautiful giveaway posters and tote bags, and a prize draw each day.

Britain's Birds

PUP was pleased to arrange a discussion on the future of field guides hosted by Stephen Moss and including our own Robert Kirk and Andy Swash on the panel. Also there was 18-year-old Josie Hewitt from Next Generation Birders and Ruth Miller from The Biggest Twitch. Despite being up against a discussion about grouse shooting in another marquee, our panel discussion was very well attended and could have run much longer since there was a great deal of interest in the topic, particularly in the interplay of apps and physical books.

Birds

The Author’s Forum also hosted talks by other PUP authors: David Newland on butterflies, James Lowen on using field guides and featuring a whole range of WildGuides books, and Brian Sullivan on Better Birding.

Britain's Birds

It was a wonderful 3-days and worth all the time that many members of the PUP and UPG team spent planning for, preparing for, and attending the event. All congratulations must, however, go to the five authors of Britain’s BirdsRob Hume, Rob Still, Andy Swash, David Tipling, and Hugh Harrop for a truly spectacular book.

Cicero on Going Emeritus

Guest post by Michael Fontaine, Acting Dean of Faculty, Cornell University.

Michael Fontaine

© Joe Wilensky/Cornell University

When a long and fulfilling career comes to an end, what do you do next? Seriously, what do you do?

That question came to mind over and over last week, when I suddenly found myself tapped to host a celebration for newly retired faculty at Cornell University. I teach Latin in the Classics department there, and this past semester I’ve been the acting dean of faculty. What on earth was I to say? I was told to speak off the cuff for five or ten minutes, but for someone who’s only just entering middle age, it’s hard to know what gems of wisdom could possibly sound sincere. What could unite a distinguished group of intellectuals from different departments at a huge research university and resonate with them?

Then it hit me—Cicero’s essay On Old Age! I’d been passing Philip Freeman’s new translation around to relatives and recommending it to friends since it came out a couple months ago. I grabbed my copy and marked out a half-dozen passages for the Provost and me to take turns reading. I worried that the title Freeman gave the essay, How to Grow Old, might put people off, so I had to be careful how I introduced the book. It could have blown up in my face.

But it didn’t blow up. The crowd loved it.

The context was crucial. I began by pointing out that Cicero’s title, De Senectute, could also be translated “On Old Age” or “On Retirement” or “On Turning 60.” I then pointed out that like Barack Obama, Cicero was a politician who rose from humble beginnings to achieve Rome’s highest office. He became consul—the equivalent of president—in 63 BC, and he did it purely through his sensational gift of public speaking. In his year in office, Cicero thwarted a terrorist attack and survived an attempt on his life, and wound up being hailed as a second founder of Rome. And in his spare time, he was a devotee of philosophy, poetry, and political theory—a real thinker.

I also pointed out that the speaker of the dialogue, Cato the Elder, was a man much like Cicero—or themselves. He enjoyed a tremendous career and then had to figure out what to do with his newfound spare time. That is surely why our first extract was the most popular of all:

So you see how old age, far from being feeble and sluggish, can be very active, always doing and engaged in something, as it follows the pursuits of earlier years. And you should never stop learning, just as Solon in his poetry boasts that while growing old he learned something new every day. I’ve done the same, teaching myself Greek as an old man. I have seized on this study like someone trying to satisfy a long thirst…. I have heard that Socrates learned as an old man to play the lyre, that favorite instrument of the ancients. I wish I could do that as well, but at least I’ve applied myself diligently to literature. (pp. 55-7)

Retirement is perfect for learning new languages—and Latin is one of the most popular choices. These faculty knew exactly what Cicero meant. They got the point of the next one, too, but not in the way I expected:

What indeed could be more pleasant than an old age surrounded by the enthusiasm of youth? For surely we must agree that old people at least have the strength to teach the young and prepare them for the many duties of life. What responsibility could be more honorable than this?… And no one who provides a liberal education to others can be considered unhappy even if his body is failing with age. The excesses of youth are more often to blame for the loss of bodily strength than old age. (pp. 61-3)

I assumed Cicero’s point about liberal education and being surrounded by young people would resonate with those who had spent their careers in university teaching. In the event, it was the final sentence that set of peals of laughter—and a few knowing smiles—from the crowd. Luckily, the Provost elevated the tone once more by reading our third extract:

We must fight, my dear Laelius and Scipio, against old age. We must compensate for its drawbacks by constant care and attend to its defects as if it were a disease. We can do this by following a plan of healthy living, exercising in moderation, and eating and drinking just enough to restore our bodies without overburdening them. And as much as we should care for our bodies, we should pay even more attention to our minds and spirits. For they, like lamps of oil, will grow dim with time if not replenished. And even though physical exercise may tire the body, mental activity makes the mind sharper. (pp. 73-5)

These words of advice never fail to win the attention and agreement of readers today; they seem to come right out of the latest self-help book for seniors. And because so many faculty look forward to retirement to at last devote more time to their research, I thought the next passage would hit home:

I am now working on the seventh book of my Origins [of Rome] and collecting all the records of our earliest history, as well as editing the speeches I delivered in famous cases. I am investigating augural, priestly, and civil law. I also devote much of my time to the study of Greek literature. And to exercise my memory, I follow the practice of the Pythagoreans and each evening go over everything I have said, heard, or done during the day. These are my mental gymnastics, the racecourses of my mind…. I also provide legal advice to my friends and frequently attend meetings of the Senate, where I propose topics for discussion and argue my opinion after pondering the issues long and hard. All this I do not with the strength of my body but with the force of my mind. (pp. 79-81)

This again brought forth giggles from the crowd, since many of them are active indeed in our faculty senate, but it was the phrase mental gymnastics that really caught their attention. It was a nice opportunity to point out that “gymnastics of the mind,” as Raffaella Cribiore has reminded us, is itself an ancient expression.

Retirees are a huge demographic that my field, Classics, ought to reach out to. Our outreach activities seem forever targeted toward the rising generation, but that’s a huge missed opportunity. We could, and should, do much more to think about other audiences for the classics—especially those for whom essays like De Senectute were written. That is the point of the final passage we chose for our celebration:

How wonderful it is for the soul when—after so many struggles with lust, ambition, strife, quarreling, and other passions—these battles are at last ended and it can return, as they say, to live within itself. There is no greater satisfaction to be had in life than a leisurely old age devoted to knowledge and learning. (p. 103)

Cicero is right. I recommend How to Grow Older to everyone out there who’s newly retired, or thinking about it.