It has become commonplace to bemoan the loss of smaller presses. The remaining large publishing houses seem intent upon as many mergers as possible until they become a single entity. These presses think almost exclusively of national or international audiences and popular tastes. They don’t seem to care very much about the nooks and crannies of our country. In response to this neglect, some independent and alternative presses, many of them quite tiny, publish delightful and surprising books. But, all along, and almost forgotten by the general public, we have been blessed by state university presses.
University presses are remarkable allies in the cause of localism. Though they publish all kinds of academic books, you’ll struggle to find a state university press that does not publish books centered on their region and their local history. It is central to their mission. Strictly academic works are certainly part of university press catalogues, but too many people have forgotten about the many other kinds of books that university presses publish.
The University of Texas Press is a great example. They have several different series all about Texas. They publish Texas Natural History Guides. UT Press also has “The Texas Bookshelf.” It includes books like The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics by Frank Andre Guridy and Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, by Stephen Harrigan. UT Press has a Southwestern and Mexican Photography Series. UT Press also has an active Instagram account that makes it very clear they serve “UT Austin, the people of Texas & knowledge seekers around the globe through books, journals & digital media.” They also host and participate in events, building a better book culture in their home state.
The University Press of Florida is another example of excellence. They, too, have an Instagram account to connect with the public. UPF publishes all kinds of books about Florida. Recent examples include Florida Trail Hikes, by Sandra Friend and John Keatley, André Michaux in Florida: An Eighteenth-Century Botanical Journey, by Walter Kingsley Taylor and Elaine M. Norman, and Tampa Cigar Workers: A Pictorial History, by Robert P. Ingalls and Louis A Pérez Jr. The University Press of Florida publishes books about topics that are even more local than the state level. Recently published works tell the histories of Tampa Bay, Peace River, Jacksonville, Ft. Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, and many other places. These are stories that are unlikely to attract enough readers to tempt Random House, but they provide a vital service to cities and regions by narrating their histories and stories.
Books from university presses can, and do, often merit attention from wider geographic regions. They are not limited to producing works only locally of interest. In 2023, for instance, the University of South Carolina Press published From Barbycu to Barbecue by Joseph R Haynes. From Barbycu to Barbecue has been written about in Texas Monthly, and rightly so
State university presses are doing the work when it comes to the ideas behind positive localism. There is much more to their catalogs than monographs. The books they publish are often great avenues for learning about where we are. Their works explore both the physical environment of their home state and its history. In many cases, the authors they publish are also local and their book promotions privilege the in-state audience. Their extensive catalogs are also a great example of a way that a public university can serve its public.
Those who don’t want to think only on the national or international scale should browse the online catalog of their state university press. There you will find books that address wherever it is you live, often with perspectives from residents of your state. We can complain about publishing house mergers and the loss of independent newspapers, but we can also purchase books that have some intentional connection to where we live. As it happens, it seems that all or nearly all the university presses are having big sales for Christmas. You can get some really good books for as much as 40-50% off. Why not patronize some publishers who recognize the importance of place?
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