Celebrating a Century of the UD Press

The University of Delaware celebrates 100 years at the Morris Library.

Over the past 100 years, the University of Delaware Press has seen its share of ups and downs, but its mission has remained the same since its inception: to publish high-quality scholarship that carries the name of the University around the world.

From its first publication, a translation of Pierre duPont’s National Education in America, in the spring of 1923 to its new book by Dan Rich, The Biden School and the Engaged University of Delaware, each UD Press title has brought critical research into the scholarly discourse.

In those 100 years, the UD Press has developed its reputation as a leading publisher in literary studies, art history, early modern studies, material culture studies, and the history and culture of the Delmarva region. The UD Press celebrates equity and inclusion, particularly through series that invite innovative transnational and interdisciplinary scholarship that speaks to gender, race and sexuality, and provides new insights into how the early modern period speaks to the present day.

Today, the UD Press is thriving. It is experiencing tremendous growth in its many book series; its staff roster is expanding; and it is taking its first steps into open access publishing, which is when books are made freely available online, ensuring that cost and geography are no longer barriers to high-quality scholarship.

“As we celebrate the past, we have bright and exciting prospects for the future,” said Julia Oestreich, director of the UD Press. “While series like Early Modern Feminisms and Material Culture Perspectives have taken off, we now turn to open access and multi-modal publishing. Even as a small press, we are dedicated to being on the cutting edge of developments in scholarly publishing that will allow all people to find and access our titles, and will push the boundaries of what a book can be and how it can contribute to scholarship.”

In March 2023, the UD community along with UD Press authors gathered to celebrate the centennial of the Press and the start of its next chapter. As we look toward the next 100 years of the UD Press, it is important to reflect on and learn from the many paths that converged over the past century to make today’s success possible.

The Origins

Shortly after the school was renamed University of Delaware in 1921, University President Walter Hullihen led the charge to establish a press. “Nothing perhaps … redounds more to the credit of an educational institution or adds more to its prestige than a Press bearing its name, wisely administered, and issuing only books and journals of acknowledged and permanent value which carry to other institutions of learning and to educated men in all parts of the world the name of the institution,” Hullihen stated when announcing the establishment of the UD Press to the University’s board of trustees in 1922.

To establish the UD Press required collaboration across the greater UD community, including hands-on support from faculty, administrators and community members.

In its initial configuration, Hullihen headed the board of directors; professor Finley M.K. Foster served as the press manager; and the local shop Press of Kells was named official printer and distributor. To defray costs and sustain the workload, the UD Press published faculty work as well as books from the nonprofit Service Citizens of Delaware.

With such a collaborative endeavor, the excitement around the UD Press was palpable, but it didn’t take long for issues to arise. Without a dedicated staff, the UD Press had to pause on acquiring new books shortly after its launch and focus on books already in the pipeline. By 1928, following a series of personnel changes and a devastating fire that shuttered the Press of Kells, the UD Press lacked the infrastructure to continue publishing and went dormant for 10 years before it was officially deemed defunct.

The Ups and Downs

When a member of the Committee on Faculty Publications wanted to publish a book-length piece, the committee expanded its scope and used the UD Press name to publish a series of books, the first launching in 1949.

With this revival, faculty and administration interest turned to reestablishing a press on campus. The faculty advocated for a professionally run, full-scale press, but UD administration had concerns about fiscal sustainability. What followed was a series of short-term partnerships with other University presses to support the production, marketing and distribution of UD Press titles.

Finally, in 1975, the UD Press found a solution that would prove to be a successful arrangement for 35 years. University Provost John Shirley appointed history professor James Merrill as director of the UD Press; established a new permanent board of directors; and partnered with Associated University Presses, a consortium of University presses. During the ensuing period of growth, the UD Press published as many as 30 titles a year and established its reputation as a leading publisher in 18th-century studies, Shakespeare studies and art history, thanks in large part to its second director, English professor Jay Halio.

Despite this success, the UD Press was nearly shut down in 1995 when, during a period of financial hardship, a University council recommended reallocating all of the Press’ funding to other parts of the University. University faculty and scholars around the country took up a letter-writing campaign to the provost that laid bare the value of the UD Press, and an anonymous donor came forward to cover the costs for operating the UD Press.

In the early 2000s, concerned that similar budgetary constraints could impact the UD Press in the future, English professor Don Mell, then director of the Press, and Provost Dan Rich worked closely with Susan Brynteson, longtime editorial board member and vice provost for libraries, to change the Press reporting line from the research office to Morris Library. In 2003, the change was made official, ushering in a period during which the UD Press was celebrated on campus and better positioned to survive operational hiccups.

“In many ways, the mission of the University of Delaware Press and the University of Delaware Library are similar in nature in that they both make scholarly information available to the broader scholarly community,” wrote Brynteson in a 2004 memorandum shortly after the move became official. “University presses make common cause with libraries and other cultural institutions to promote engagement with ideas and sustain a literate culture.”

What the move couldn’t account for was the end of the arrangement with the Associated University Presses, which dissolved in 2010. The successful partnership had lasted more than three decades, and now left the UD Press in a tough position. It landed on a partnership with commercial scholarly publisher Rowman and Littlefield, though the arrangement didn’t come without its concerns. While the UD Press continued to thrive with Library funding, the number of titles it published per year dwindled.

The Revitalization

In 2017, Trevor A. Dawes, the newly appointed vice provost for libraries and museums, made two critical changes to the UD Press. First, to emphasize how essential the UD Press is to the University’s mission, he merged and renamed the Library, Museums and Press. Second, he appointed senior editor Julia Oestreich as director of the UD Press, making her the first publishing professional and the first woman to run the Press. Until then, a faculty board chairman had always overseen operations.

“At its core, the mission of the Library, Museums and Press is to provide access to information in order to support forward-thinking, globally-minded citizens,” Dawes explained at the celebration in March. “The UD Press is essential to this mission. Through the UD Press, we increase access to high-quality scholarship by publishing and distributing scholarly research on campus and around the world.”

Upon her appointment, Oestreich immediately set out to transition the current arrangement to a new partnership with a university press that would better support the mission of the UD Press. Following a brief relationship with the University of Virginia Press, the UD Press now works with Rutgers University Press to produce, market and distribute its titles. Unlike previous arrangements, the UD Press is now involved throughout the entire publication workflow and owns all of its titles.

The Future

The past century has seen tremendous changes in technology, access and innovation, and the UD Press looks to continue growing in these areas. This spring, the UD Press launched its first open access title – The Biden School and the Engaged University of Delaware by Dan Rich. Through open access books, individuals have online access to high-quality scholarship without the constraints of cost or location.

The UD Press has also made some of its backlist titles available open access via the institutional repository, UDSpace. With grant funding, the UD Press will continue to publish new open access titles and begin to experiment with publications that integrate media and interactive elements.

“I think of the UD Press as 100 years young instead of 100 years old,” Provost Laura Carlson said at the centennial anniversary event in March. “To embrace open access is a significant, forward-looking move that will ensure the Press will keep its place, keep its importance, and keep its value both for the University and the scholarship that it represents.”

Over the past century, the UD Press has proven its resilience and it is ready to take on the emerging opportunities in the scholarly publishing landscape.

Interested in learning more about the history of the University of Delaware Press? Check out the online exhibition A Small but Mighty Press: The University of Delaware Press 100th Anniversary.

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