Brandeis University Press Turns a Page

Cover of “Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where To Find Them.”
"Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where to Find Them," by city archaeologist Joseph M. Bagley, was published by BUP in April 2021.

Brandeis University Press is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a milestone that seemed in doubt only a few years ago, by publishing at an unprecedented clip, offering more than 20 new titles in its 2021 catalog.

“We’re really consolidating what we’ve achieved and are now looking to the future,” says press director Sue Ramin. “We want to publish excellent books that sell — and make an impact.”

BUP was started in 1971 as an imprint of the University Press of New England, founded by a group of New England schools that pooled resources to create and operate a press. Working with a centralized staff of editors and designers housed at Dartmouth College, each university’s imprint published in areas of academic strength that reflected its school’s mission. BUP focused on Jewish studies and quickly became a groundbreaking publisher, partnering with Brandeis centers and institutes to develop series that served as standards in their fields.

“It was really quite an extraordinary experiment at the time, and there were almost no other models like it,” says editorial director Sylvia Fuks Fried, who began working on BUP’s Tauber Institute Series in 1985.

But by the beginning of the 21st century, the viability of university presses was threatened. E-publishing had taken off. Research libraries were purchasing fewer physical books. By 2016, UPNE had dwindled from 10 to only two universities — Dartmouth and Brandeis — and two years later, its board of governors decided to dissolve the consortium. Brandeis faced eliminating its press or finding a way to operate independently.

“At a time when some universities were saying, ‘We have other things to do with this money than operate a press,’ Provost Lisa Lynch and President Ron Liebowitz backed us,” Fuks Fried says. “They believed we could flourish as a free-standing press.”

Along with university librarian Matthew Sheehy, Fuks Fried explored different business models, eventually reaching a deal with the University of Chicago for the warehousing, marketing and distribution of BUP titles.

In 2019, Ramin was brought on to oversee BUP’s transformation to an independent publisher and to lead the press. Over the past two years, BUP has published more than 30 new titles. Although Jewish studies publications are still considered its “crown jewels,” Ramin says, BUP is expanding into other fields. Books range from general-interest titles to scholarly offerings.

Recent popular titles include the award-winning “Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where To Find Them,” by Boston’s city archaeologist Joseph M. Bagley, and “Ducks on Parade,” a book featuring photographs of the bronze Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Boston Public Garden, edited by sculptor Nancy Schön. The press is also launching a new series on law and society with faculty from Brandeis’ legal studies program.

Earlier this year, BUP obtained the rights to UPNE’s back catalog, increasing its list from 300 titles to more than 700.

“We’re continuing our tradition as a known center of excellence of publishing in Jewish studies, but we are also publishing in the humanities and social sciences,” says Ramin. “We see ourselves as an arm of the university. Our job is to get its values out there into the world.”