What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
The exciting technological trends leading to greater malleability, interactivity, and discoverability of content continue apace, of course, with varying adoption and engagement by university presses. Of particular interest to me is the growing ability to track on the granular level user engagement with content across the digital surface of a text. Such behavioral information will become a cornerstone of future acquisitions initiatives driven by how readers use our content as much as what they read. I am also confident that an accelerating emerging trend is the ability to stream content by subject, connected to a subscription service.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Two types. First, stepping sharply away from the deadened formulaic approaches of too many monographs, I would love to see more highly personalized accounts of real-life experiences that are relevant for many. Such books often demand considerable investment of time and emotion by an acquiring editor, but they are worth it. This year, we’re publishing a great example of this type of book: Trapped in Iran, by Samieh Hezari, which details her harrowing attempts to escape that country with her little girl. What a story and a brave life lived. The second type of book I hunger for is a sweeping, grand narrative about a time, people, or place, along the lines of Colin Calloway’s celebrated and award-winning One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark, which I sponsored at the University of Nebraska Press many years ago, a big, bold, thrilling years-in-the-research-and-writing story accessible to all and avowedly nonparticularistic. Sigh. I miss that type of book.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
It’s not a topic as much as a style of scholarship that is currently, in my view, threatening to overwhelm certain humanistic and social science academic disciplines—that includes my own field of anthropology, unfortunately—a style of scholarship where heavy-handed theoretical discussion undermines and sometimes nearly eviscerates the human subject at the heart of a monograph. Recently, a manuscript in anthropology submitted to me took seven chapters to finally visit and showcase the community that had been studied by the researcher. Theory needs to emerge in a book strategically and delicately from the presentation of the human subject rather than scaffold up and massively surround it. The former approach illumines; the latter buries. As an editor and a reader, I should not need to wade through lengthy rhetorical trappings of the academy to learn about other worlds, lives, and experiences. In my view, graduate schools need to better train their students how to write about their world-class research—how, through carefully orchestrated prose, to share those findings, those discoveries, those insights in the most effective and appropriate manner possible. Brilliant research and engaging storytelling are not mutually exclusive.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
University presses are unique because they are venerable publishing houses that are connected to campuses. I have heard it claimed that university presses are distinct because of their unswerving service to scholarly fields, but other publishers also disseminate the findings of the academy. University presses are different because they are inherently rooted in the interests, mandates, and daily lives of their campuses. That special relationship should (it doesn’t always, unfortunately) affect their lists, priorities, and the suite of publishing services they offer.
Gary Dunham is the director of Indiana University Press and Digital Publishing in Bloomington. He previously served as the director of publications at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, executive director of SUNY Press, and director of the University of Nebraska Press.