About the Press

The University of Pittsburgh Press is a publisher with distinguished lists in a wide range of scholarly and cultural fields. We publish books for general readers, scholars, and students.

In our efforts to acquire the best available scholarship, the Press has focused  on selected academic areas: Latin American studies, Russian and East European studies, Central Asian studies, composition and literacy studies, environmental studies, urban studies, the history of architecture and the built environment, and the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. Our books about Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania include history, art, architecture, photography, biography, fiction, and guidebooks.

Our renowned Pitt Poetry Series represents many of the finest poets active today, as reflected in the many prestigious awards their work has garnered over the past four decades. In addition, the Press is home to the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, and, in rotation with other university presses, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. We also sponsor the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize, which recognizes the finest collective works of short fiction available in an international competition.

The History of the University of Pittsburgh Press

In 1931 the University of Pittsburgh joined with the Buhl Foundation and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania to commission the research and writing of a dozen manuscripts. Known collectively as the Historical Survey, these were scholarly accounts of the history of western Pennsylvania and among the first detailed histories of the colonial period to look beyond the eastern seaboard.

Published over several years beginning in 1937, a number of these volumes have stood the test of time and are still in print. The authors included University of Pittsburgh scholars of national reputation such as Solon Buck and Leland Baldwin, and the books have achieved their remarkable longevity because of the often surprisingly modern character of their scholarship, which examined the social and cultural life of ordinary people, recognized the agency of Native Americans and the complexity of their interactions with European settlers, and accounted for the role of women in the region’s history—long before such approaches to the writing of history were common.

The need to publish these groundbreaking books led to the idea of establishing a press at the University. With support from the Mellon Foundation, Chancellor John Bowman created the University of Pittsburgh Press in September 1936 and then appointed Agnes Lynch Starrett as its first director, placing a woman at the helm at a time when publishing was still very much a male-dominated world. With Baldwin and other Pitt faculty providing scholarly guidance on the content of the Historical Survey, and Lawrence Irwin contributing his experience in book design and printing, the essential ingredients of a functioning press were established at the same time that the finishing touches were being applied to the new Cathedral of Learning.

University presses were not yet a common sight on the American academic scene, and Pittsburgh’s was one of the first to be established since the late nineteenth century. In 1938 it was one of a handful of publishers that joined together to create the Association of University Presses, which has since grown to a membership of nearly 150 presses around the world. The growth of the Press was fairly modest in its early years. The ten volumes of the original Historical Survey were published between 1937 and 1941, with one more title in 1942 before operations were suspended for the duration of the Second World War.

After the war the Press renewed its efforts, increasing the number of books and the variety of subjects it published. Agnes Lynch Starrett continued to lead the Press in these early decades of development and it was she who articulated its mission as endeavoring, “through the publication of books, to extend the University’s teaching and research beyond the classroom, the laboratory, and the professor’s study . . . thus fulfilling a key function of a university in a democracy—the widest dissemination of tested knowledge.”

The postwar decades saw rapid changes in the worlds of book publishing and the academy. Rising college enrollments driven first by the GI Bill and then the baby boom went hand in hand with the dramatic growth of all kinds of publishing, typified by the “paperback revolution” and an ever-increasing demand for textbooks. New disciplines, new departments, and whole new universities were created and scholarly output soared.

In response to these powerful trends, many new university presses were established (especially at state universities), while existing presses expanded to meet the needs of their academic constituents. Its second director, Fred Hetzel, led the Press in navigating this rapidly changing terrain, establishing a presence in a number of new academic disciplines, some of which continue to be active parts of the Press’s publishing program, while maintaining a strong commitment to publishing books about Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. Hetzel also led the effort to create the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction, working to secure its place as one of the top literary prizes in the nation.

During this period the Press went from publishing around ten books a year to an average of thirty and then to an average of forty new titles each year. Book series were established to move the program into important new areas such as political science, foreign policy, Latin American studies, literary studies, Soviet studies, and others. Another outstanding development was the creation in 1968 of the Pitt Poetry Series by assistant director Paul Zimmer, who also served as the series editor for ten years.

The Press was now firmly established on the national scene as a significant scholarly publisher. During the 1970s the New York Times selected an annual list of outstanding American university presses for recognition, and each year the University of Pittsburgh Press was among them.

The University of Pittsburgh Press entered the 1990s as a robust publishing operation, but a traditional, straightforward strategy of across-the-board growth was becoming less viable as market conditions for all publishers changed and presented fresh challenges. Declining sales of scholarly books—the basic coin of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and the principal product of all university presses—were emblematic of a deeper set of changes in the overall system of scholarly communication.

The Press found ways not just to endure this challenging publishing environment but to flourish. The third director of the Press, Cynthia Miller, developed new long-term strategies and brought in new staff with publishing experience at other presses to ensure the continued vigor and increased professionalism of all Press operations. The publishing program combined long-term strengths with new efforts that focused on reflecting and supporting areas of academic excellence at the University, supported by the expertise necessary to take advantage of advances in technology to more efficiently edit, produce, and publish books.

The long-standing Latin American series was joined by Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas. The series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture became the most prominent publishing venue in its field, with special emphasis on issues of race, gender, cross-cultural scholarship, and, more recently, the influence of technology. The series in Russian and East European Studies was the joint recipient (with the university presses at Northwestern and Wisconsin) of an important multiyear grant from the A. W. Mellon Foundation, which fueled its development and laid the basis for future growth.

Now under the leadership of its fourth (and current) director, Peter Kracht, strategic editorial expansion has continued, and the Press has grown to publishing about seventy-five books per year. The history of science now forms the core of a new and growing program along with titles in philosophy of science. New series have been launched in Central Asian studies, the history of architecture and the built environment, and environmental studies. The Pitt Poetry Series has gone from strength to strength under the guidance of series editor Ed Ochester, expanding from four to over a dozen books every year, and may now be fairly regarded as one of the finest and most diverse poetry publishing programs in the world.

And true to its origins, the Press continues successful collaborations with other Pittsburgh-area institutions, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Heinz History Center, the Frick Art and Historical Center, and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Press books in all fields have won hundreds of awards from academic, library, or publishing associations, plus many major design awards. Press titles are regularly reviewed in national media and in relevant scholarly journals, and Press authors give readings, lectures, and media interviews all over the country.

As the astonishing growth of the internet and other information technologies profoundly affects the creation and dissemination of scholarship, the Press has been able to thrive in this rapidly evolving environment. Even as we respond to continued demand from faculty, students, and general readers for traditional print publications, we are offering all of our publications in e-book formats along with simultaneous paperback or hardcover publication. Short-run digital printing technology has also opened up exciting opportunities for affordably reprinting old and new books, even for a single order from one customer, allowing us to extend the life of our books. Regardless of format, all of our books are published with great attention to quality: excellent copyediting, beautiful typesetting and page layout, and superb cover designs.

If our long history has taught us anything, it’s that times can and do change and we can and will change with them. But our mission as a university press remains the same: to select, develop, and publish the most important and most meaningful scholarship along with the most creative poets and writers—and then bring these books to readers throughout the world.