Syracuse University Magazine

Celebrating 70 Years of Scholarly Publishing

SU Press has most assuredly surpassed what Chancellor William P. Tolley could have possibly envisioned when he created the University’s publishing arm in 1943 to foster and disseminate the faculty’s scholarly work. Seventy years later, SU Press enjoys international critical acclaim for its award-winning books authored by scholars from around the world. “Most people overseas aren’t familiar with SU athletics, but they know about SU Press,” says Alice Randel Pfeiffer G’77, G’86, director of SU Press. She attributes this international reputation, in part, to the press’s Middle East Studies books, which were first published in the early 1960s—well before other academic presses got in the game. And in 2012, the press received the prestigious Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for A Muslim Suicide written by Bensalem Himmich and translated by Roger Allen. “It attracted tremendous international coverage, with articles in the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement,” Pfeiffer says.

For many years, SU Press operated as an independent nonprofit subsidiary corporation of Syracuse University. Three years ago, it became part of the University Libraries. “Merging the press with the libraries seemed like a natural fit, and we calculated it would be more cost effective to share resources in today’s tough financial climate,” says Pfeiffer, who holds a master’s degree in accounting from the Whitman School of Management. “Since the merger, we have seen savings in such critical areas as insurance and legal expenses, and a lot of administrative costs. We are also now part of the University’s development team, which should help us raise much needed financial support.”

Since 1999, SU Press has won more than 60 awards and in 2008 was named Publisher of the Year by the Bloomsbury Review literary magazine. It produces 50 to 55 new books a year, and currently has 1,500 in print in 27 subject categories—everything from African American, Irish, Jewish, and Native American studies, to sports history, geography, and poetry, to name a few. In the early 1980s, the press published a groundbreaking series in the field of education, spearheaded by SU professor Alice Honig’s book, Infant Caregiving (1981). Coming full circle, the press introduced a new education series—Critical Perspectives on Disability Studies—which has received excellent reviews. Books in this series cross disciplinary and cultural boundaries to touch on such topics as special education, disability law and policy, and international human rights. Titles include Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen, and Other Photographic Rhetoric by Robert Bogdan G’64, G’71, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Social Science and Education at Syracuse; and Acts of Conscience by Steven Taylor G’77, Centennial Professor of Disability Studies at the School of Education. 

SU Press’s all-time best seller, Rastafari: Roots and Ideology by the late West Indian author Barry Chevannes, is one of the most important books ever published on the subject of Rastafarianism, a religious movement that originated among black Jamaicans. The book has been used in religion classes nationwide since it was first published in 1994, selling more than 40,000 copies to date. The press’s largest subject area, however, is the history and culture of New York State. In fact, The Encyclopedia of New York State (2005) ranks number two in terms of revenue, and The Adirondack Atlas (2004) is number three. “There are a lot of university presses in New York State, but SU Press publishes more about Central and Northern New York than any other,” Pfeiffer says.

One of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the 16-member staff is to keep up with the ever-changing world of electronic publishing and myriad e-book applications. The press has more than 700 titles currently available through Google, but the corporation retains ownership of the digital files. So to sell those books through other electronic distribution channels, the press would have to scan and digitize more than 1,000 books, which would be quite costly and time consuming. “Looking to the future, we hope to collaborate with the SU Libraries to create a digital publishing center that would be a wonderful resource for faculty and students,” Pfeiffer says. “Our top priority continues to be publishing the best scholarship we can to enhance SU’s academic prestige, both here and abroad.”   —Christine Yackel