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It’s University Press Week! We’re excited to be one of 37 presses participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.
For today’s Meet the Press theme, we’re featuring Kyla Madden and Jonathan Crago, two long-standing members of MQUP who have recently assumed new roles within the Editorial department.
So what are your roles at McGill-Queen’s University Press?
Kyla Madden: I am Senior Editor at the Press. I acquire manuscripts in the field of history, as well as in the areas of religious studies, international studies, and health and medicine.
Jonathan Crago: I am Editor in Chief at McGill-Queen’s. My own lists include works in art history, architecture, Quebec and Canadian history, communications and film, musicology, and anthropology, among others. McGill-Queen’s has a classic university press list that balances a strong dedication to place and the work of Canadian scholars. Within the editorial department, I work with my fellow editors to identify new directions and cultivate areas of strength for our publishing program.
Can you tell us about your background in publishing, and what drew you to scholarly publishing?
KM: I began working part-time at MQUP while I was a graduate student in history, so I had the opportunity to see both sides of the scholarly enterprise: the academic work of research and writing, and the publisher’s work of manuscript review, improvement, and dissemination of the finished book. As a PhD student, I loved the creative aspect of scholarly research—those impulses that lead you to certain sources, leaving you to puzzle over what you have discovered, and then try to articulate it. As an editor, I am often among the first readers of a manuscript, sometimes while the author is still working out ideas and articulating her research findings. To work with authors through this process of finishing and polishing their work, before bringing it to a wider readership, is a great privilege.
JC: I first became directly aware of the work of university presses doing undergraduate and graduate work in English literature and film. Even during the most harried moments of compiling the bibliographies of papers, I could see that the ideas and conversations I was drawing on had been consistently published by university presses. As an undergraduate student at McGill, I hadn’t known we had a Press on campus but I saw a job posting for a maternity leave replacement editorial assistant at MQUP. I was lucky enough to get hired and have been here ever since.
As editors, what do you think makes a great manuscript?
JC: As Kyla has articulated, it is the spirit of inquiry – an impulse to question, to search, and to formulate ideas – that is at the core of scholarship. I think that great manuscripts combine these scholarly ideals with a sense of craft that informs the writing and a sense of mission that shapes the book – as a unique perspective on the world, but also as an entity in itself. Every reader has had the experience of getting lost in a book, and this is not an experience that is unique to great novels and poetry – great scholarly books have the same effect.
Can you pick one MQUP title which you think best demonstrates excellence in scholarly publishing? What makes it so?
KM: There are many, but I will choose a work that is forthcoming. In Spring 2014, MQUP will publish Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America, by renowned ethnobotanist Nancy Turner. This book will be published in two volumes, over approximately 1,200 pages. As well as being an engrossing and beautifully written book, it is a monumental work of scholarship, informed by more than forty years of prodigious research and fieldwork (including the creation of a massive database comparing plant names in dozens of Indigenous languages and dialects). For me, this book exemplifies the ideals of scholarly publishing: to transform profound and engaged research into an original and valuable contribution to knowledge, to shape and preserve erudition in book form, and to share the fruits of that learning as widely as possible.
What are the challenges facing scholarly publishing today?
JC: There are many practical challenges that presses wrestle with on a daily basis and I think the list is familiar to most – new systems to support the production and sale of electronic formats, finding new venues for publicizing and reviewing books, keeping our programs financially sustainable. In spite of this host of “new problems,” I think that the problems themselves, and the way we meet them, are related to a universal underlying question – presenting research, and the published fruits of this research – as a public good. I think university presses have always played a key role in shaping the public discussion of academic research and our greatest challenge is to continue to find ways to make ideas, and the books which contain them, visible and appreciated as a value for society.
That brings me to my next question – Why do university presses matter?
KM: University presses are true partners with the academic community in the review, refinement, and dissemination of research; they are stewards of scholarship. At the same time, their books and journals are often the means by which new ideas and research findings transcend the academy—educating students, informing policy, contributing to culture, and preserving regional and national heritages and histories. University press publications tend to begin not as concepts for a supposed target audience, but as open-ended questions by curious, creative, and incredibly smart people. It is the unique role of the university press to encourage and preserve this work.
Please tell us a bit about this week’s Making Knowledge Public event at McGill University and what inspired it.
JC: The idea of the Making Knowledge Public campus event is to bring together the authors of three recent, and very different MQUP books, and to have them discuss what it meant to publish this work in book form as an act of a publicly engaged academic. In short, to talk about what is at stake in their books. The event is inspired by three ideas. First, my experience as an undergraduate unaware of the existence of a Press on campus – the Press is part of the fabric of university life and the event is one way to make this better known. Second, the idea that many readers, authors, and publishers can take the book form for granted. There are many options for the public presentation of research these days, and it’s worth our while to think critically and objectively what is unique and valuable in the book form. Third, the local authors participating have published three books that provide very different perspectives on the city of Montreal. It is one of the beauties of university press publishing that these books can be connected in our catalogue and the opportunity to make this connection “live” and see what happens is bound to yield some interesting and valuable discussion for those in attendance.
Continue today’s blog tour theme and Meet these Presses:
Enjoy the rest of University Press Week! And be sure to keep a lookout for #UPWeek on Twitter.