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Celebrating 75 Years of Notre Dame Press

Notre Dame Press 5+1 post-doctoral fellow Jake Kildoo, with research support from undergraduate interns Josh Gilchrist and Danny O’Brien, delved into the Press’s archives to tell the story of Notre Dame Press from its inception in 1949 to today.

Since its founding in 1949, the University of Notre Dame Press has established itself as the world’s largest Catholic university press and as an innovative leader in the world of scholarly publishing. From scholarly monographs to general interest books, the Press has developed thriving lists in a wide variety of disciplines including religion and theology, philosophy, political science, history, medieval studies, and Latin American studies. The list of distinguished authors is similarly robust: Thomas Merton, Elie Wiesel, Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, Josef Pieper, Ernesto Galarza, David Bentley Hart, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Notre Dame Press’s success was built on a foundation of service to the scholarly community, to the University, and to its authors. The story of the Press begins in 1949 with the publication of Charles Sheedy’s The Christian Virtues, a textbook for students and lay Catholics. With the support of Dale Francis from the Department of Public Information, Sheedy’s project inspired Fr. Theodore Hesburgh to found a formal scholarly press at Notre Dame under the leadership of Francis. Sheedy’s textbook was the first book to be published by Notre Dame Press and the inaugural book in its first official series, the University Religion Series—an auspicious harbinger of the Press’s eventual preeminence in academic theology.

Over its first decade, Notre Dame Press would make significant strides. In 1954, the Press officially joined the American Association of University Presses (now the Association of University Presses), a non-profit organization committed to the vitality of scholarly publishing. At the same time, the Press expanded its publishing program and campus partnerships, collaborating with the Medieval Institute and Department of Mathematics to publish series on Medieval Studies and Mathematical Lectures. This period also saw the publication of a new International Relations series, subsidized by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Perhaps most impressively, the Press received a major grant from the Ford Foundation, along with just a few dozen university presses including Harvard and Vanderbilt. In fact, Notre Dame was the only Catholic institution to receive this prestigious grant. Still, the Notre Dame Press of the ’50s remained a relatively small operation, located in the basement of one of the men’s residence halls, Farley Hall.

Emily Maria Schossberger (Photo Credit: Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries)

The Press achieved a major turning point under the leadership of Emily Schossberger, who served as director from 1960 to 1972. Schossberger pushed the Press into strategic list planning, including increasing publication of significant works of Catholic scholarship in addition to theology textbooks. She also placed a strong emphasis on publishing “timeless books,” which she considered to be the lifeblood of university presses. Her vision was to publish works of scholarship that would endure, contributing to the enrichment of posterity rather than falling out of relevance shortly after publication. Under her stewardship, the Press more than doubled its publication output, growing from 26 to 28 titles annually in the mid-1960s to approximately 50 to 60 titles per year by the end of the decade. In light of these successes, Schossberger commented that “the University of Notre Dame Press has come of age, because it publishes the books which are beyond the ages.”

Extending Schossberger’s vision, Director James Langford, who served from 1974 to 1999, further refined the Press’s strategic list building, focusing on six major areas: theology, philosophy, political science, humanities, literature, and ethnic studies. In particular, Notre Dame Press established itself as a true powerhouse in theology and religion during this time, publishing groundbreaking titles like Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue (1981), Stanley Hauerwas’s A Community of Character (1981), and Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues (1990), all three of which were included in Christianity Today’s list of the top 100 religious books of the 20th century. At the same time, Langford expanded the Press’s horizons to include not only scholarly works, but also what he called “thoughtful books”—books that, in his words, fall in “the area between scholarly and more popular books.” To this day, this type of crossover book forms a vital core of the Press’s lists, including recent books on advancing global religious freedom, exploring the intellectual history of American progressivism, and proposing a new ethical framework for medical practitioners to name only a few.

Over the next decade and a half, Notre Dame Press’s lists would continue to expand and deepen. To support its already stellar theology and religion list, the Press published works by major intellectual figures such as John Henry Newman, John S. Dunne, and Henri de Lubac S.J.. At the same time, several major book series were established or matured, such as the William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature, which has garnered three Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Awards in addition other prestigious accolades. Building on Fr. Hesburgh’s commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, the Press also launched the African American Intellectual Series, which brought a number of classic works of African American social thought back into print. These series expanded the Press’s lists into the areas of medieval and renaissance studies and African American studies.

The beginning of the 21st century was also a time of significant technological advancement for Notre Dame Press. In 2012, the Press produced its inaugural batch of ebooks, which included the first ever digitized copy of Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy. In 2015, the Press also began taking advantage of modern print-on-demand technology, which reduces back-stock and allows for greater efficiency in production. Print-on-demand remains a popular printing option not only at Notre Dame Press, but across the publishing industry, to ensure that books are always available in stock anywhere around the world.

In 2015, Notre Dame Press hired its current director Stephen Wrinn, who has not only expanded the Press’s publishing program, but has also forged and deepened a number of its most important relationships both on and off campus. In partnership with the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, Wrinn secured the translation rights to a series of original works by Nobel Prize-winning novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that have never before been published in English. Furthermore, under Wrinn’s stewardship, the Press significantly enhanced the prestige of its political science and theory lists, publishing leading voices in political theory such as Rémi Brague, Pierre Manent, and D.C. Schindler. Wrinn has also made scholarly publishing accessible to the Notre Dame and academic community through educational events and seminars on campus and at scholarly conferences, as well as the biennial Notre Dame Press Publishing Boot Camp for graduate students.

Stephen Wrinn (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

On top of all this, Wrinn’s leadership has established Notre Dame Press as a fiscally sustainable program, balancing mission-critical academic works with revenue-generating trade titles, and launching fundraising initiatives like the Giles Family Fund, and, more recently, the First-time Author Fund, which help to underwrite the publication of scholarly works. “My goal,” states Wrinn, “is to enhance the global reputation of the University while simultaneously positioning the Press for critical and commercial success for generations to come.”

Looking forward, Notre Dame Press is poised to continue serving as a powerful force for good both on campus and around the world. In line with the University’s mission, the Press will continue striving to establish Notre Dame as a premier research institution, while maintaining an emphasis on its distinctly Catholic identity. We are pleased to celebrate 75 years of service to Notre Dame, to the academy, to our authors, and to the pursuit of knowledge!

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