We are pleased to have UH Press author and editorial board member Barbara Watson Andaya blogging for us as part of the University Press Week blog tour. Dr. Andaya is professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawai‘i.
Why University Presses Matter
In today’s world, where so much information comes to us in short visual or audio fragments, and where thoughtful and sustained comment is a rarity, academic publications remain a unique repository of knowledge. As flag bearers for their institutions, university presses remain a visible demonstration of the role of tertiary education in extending the global boundaries of knowledge. In this context it is difficult to overestimate the contribution they have made in the past—and will continue to make in the future. The reading public, and sometimes university administrators themselves, do not realize that most academic books would not be accepted by commercial houses because the financial returns would be considered insufficient. The specialist critiques; the careful revisions; the editorial suggestions; the careful choice of illustrations, charts, maps; the professional copy editing; the compilation of indexes—all demand an expenditure of time and resources that can only be found in the university press environment.
The feeling of achievement felt by any author when he or she sees the fruit of many years of effort in a tangible form is a direct result of this commitment to excellence. Though electronic communication has revolutionized the ways in which we communicate and has opened amazing doorways to intellectual exchanges, nothing has yet replaced the deep satisfaction of actually holding a completed book in one’s hands. But this is far from being simply a self-satisfying endeavor, for the academic monographs on the shelves of popular booksellers represent not merely outreach to the general public, but tangible affirmation of the mission of universities themselves.
The support given by university presses to scholarly conversations is especially pertinent to my own field, Southeast Asian studies, a region that covers eleven countries but which has been overshadowed by its Asian neighbors, notably China, Japan and India. University of Hawai‘i Press has a established a formidable reputation as the publisher of choice for books on Southeast Asia, which cover a vast range of subjects from the use of rattans in Borneo to experiences of Thai soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
What is important about these books is that they are not just addressing an specialist audience for English speakers; a number have been developed for classroom use and are thus an important tool for introducing students and the general public to this important but little understood region of the world. Perhaps even more significantly, through collaboration with other presses, notably the National University of Singapore Press, books published by UH Press are available in the region. At the same time, this co-operation with Southeast Asian academic publishers provides a conduit through which publications by local scholars can reach a wider international readership. In a relatively new field like Southeast Asian studies, the ability to collaborate and share knowledge is especially meaningful when so many local historians do not have the resources or opportunities to work in overseas archives and libraries.
In a wider framework of academia more generally, it is this legacy of global communication that university presses seek to support. Although the twenty-first century has brought many challenges to scholarly publishing, the resilience demonstrated so often in the past gives confidence that they will be able to meet these challenges with assurance. There can be no doubt that we will all be the beneficiaries.