University of Minnesota Press history

Founded in 1925, the University of Minnesota Press is among the most distinctive American university presses, with an international reputation for publishing boundary-breaking and intellectually rigorous work.

Founded in 1925, the University of Minnesota Press is among the most distinctive American university presses, with an international reputation for publishing boundary-breaking and intellectually rigorous work. After building its reputation during its first fifty years on traditional scholarly books and publishing in the literary and creative arts, Minnesota redefined its program in the 1980s to become a leading publisher of groundbreaking scholarship in social and critical theory, cultural studies, race and ethnic studies, and media studies and in the process became the first university press to define its editorial program by critical methods rather than academic discipline. In recent years, Minnesota’s publishing program has evolved to develop strengths in art and visual culture, architecture and urban studies, politics, and indigenous studies. Since its inception the Press has also maintained a commitment to publishing prize-winning books on the people, culture, history, and natural environment of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Through its Test Division, the Press publishes the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the most widely used objective tests of personality in the world.

The Press’s current editorial program took shape during the 1980s with the publication of several influential works of European social and critical theory. Titles such as Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory (1983), Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1984), and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987) established the Press’s profile as an important publisher of European philosophy. Much of Minnesota’s growing reputation during this period was due to the highly regarded Theory and History of Literature series, which encouraged and provoked dialogue among the disciplines. Spanning more than eighty volumes by the time of its completion in 1998, the series encompassed theoretically informed work by North American scholars as well as translations of European philosophers and theorists such as Theodor Adorno, Giorgio Agamben, Georges Bataille, Peter Bürger, Hélène Cixous, Catherine Clement, Michel de Certeau, Paul de Man, Denis Hollier, Jean-Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, and Klaus Theleweit. The THL series secured Minnesota’s position as an active publisher of scholarly translations, which continues to define its program today.

The 1980s also marked a crucial and productive period in development of the MMPI. Created in the late 1930s by two University of Minnesota faculty members, clinical psychologist Starke Hathaway and J. C. McKinley, head of the Department of Psychiatry, the first MMPI was published by the Press in 1943. During the late 1950s, the test was licensed to the Psychological Corporation. In order to revise and further develop the MMPI, Minnesota resumed publication in 1982 and established its Test Division to sponsor ongoing research and product development of the MMPI. By 1989 a fully revised test, the MMPI-2, was published, followed in 1992 by a version for adolescents, the MMPI-A. In 2008 the MMPI-2-RF (Restructured Form) was introduced, a major modernization of the instrument that applied recent developments in psychometrics.

In the years to follow, Minnesota built on those ambitious initiatives in its book and test divisions, revitalizing its regional publishing program in the 1990s and adding a journals program later that same decade. In 2005, Minnesota incorporated a comprehensive digital workflow plan into its publishing operations, launching the innovative Minnesota Archive Editions to return to availability its entire backlist, dating back to 1925, along with committing to publish all new titles in simultaneous print and e-book editions.


Early History

Established by President Lotus D. Coffman and the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota in July 1925, the Press owed much of its early existence to Guy Stanton Ford, then dean of the university’s graduate school. Ford was one of five faculty members who oversaw all aspects of the Press. To this day, the Committee on the Press (appointed from the university’s faculty) continues to authorize the acceptance of all original manuscripts. Prior to the existence of the Press, works published at the University of Minnesota were printed and distributed by individual departments, and the Press was created, in part, to facilitate the production of these publications along with creating a book program. To manage the increased workload Ford hired a part-time editorial assistant, Margaret S. Harding, who, within four months, became one of the first female directors of a major university press. Aided only by a student stenographer, shipping clerk, and part-time accountant, Harding and the Committee on the Press developed the University of Minnesota Press into a successful academic book publisher, much more than a printing and distribution firm for university publications.

After twenty-five years as director of the Press, Margaret Harding retired in 1952. Her successor was senior editor Helen Clapesattle, author of The Doctors Mayo, a New York Times best-selling history of the Mayo Clinic and its founders published by Minnesota in 1941. Serving as director until 1956, Clapesattle’s editorial experience contributed to the growth of Minnesota’s program in important areas, especially literary studies. The Press’s increasing prominence as a publisher in the humanities was further strengthened under the its third director, John E. Ervin Jr., who came to Minnesota in 1957 and remained at the Press for the next thirty years. During this period, the Press, with several university faculty members, started the University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers series. Edited by Richard Foster, Allen Tate, Leonard Unger, and Robert Penn Warren, the series presented concise, authoritative introductions to more than one hundred of America’s most important writers. Immensely popular, many of the pamphlets remained in print well into the 1990s. Ervin also launched Minnesota Drama Editions, a series of plays by renowned dramatists edited by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, which made headlines in 1965 with the acquisition of two plays by Bertolt Brecht, The Good Woman of Setzuan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, both of which continue among the Press’s best-selling titles.


The THL Series and Beyond

The Theory and History of Literature series (1981–98), edited by two University of Minnesota faculty members, Wlad Godzich and Jochen Schulte-Sasse, with then–Minnesota editor Lindsay Waters, dramatically altered the Press’s publishing program and, arguably, redirected the course of humanities scholarship in American higher education. When Ervin retired in 1989, he was succeeded as director by Lisa Freeman, who extended the Press’s program of theoretical scholarship into the social sciences and moved Minnesota toward socially engaged publishing and a leading position in feminist and cultural studies. Eight years later, in 1998, Douglas Armato became the fifth director of the University of Minnesota Press and turned the Press toward an emphasis on interdisciplinary scholarship, reorganizing the editorial program around areas of inquiry. He launched initiatives in visual arts, architecture, and digital culture, and expanded the list with books of general interest and a broader range of regional titles. The most recent years at the Press have also been characterized by several successful collaborations, both on campus with other University of Minnesota departments and units and in new ventures with publishing partners. The Press has significantly increased its efforts to attract subsidies and grants, and its publications have benefited from funding from the Getty Foundation, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the McKnight Foundation, the Millard Meiss Publication Fund of the College Art Association, the Jerome Foundation, and many institutions and private donors.

Minnesota’s publishing profile, while retaining many characteristics prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s, continues to challenge the boundaries of contemporary scholarship. Seeking to advance interdisciplinary communication, the Press launched the Quadrant initiative in 2008. Quadrant’s four research groups (Design, Architecture, and Culture; Environment, Culture, and Sustainability; Global Cultures; and Health and Society) bring scholars in the humanities and social sciences into dialogue with those in the sciences and professional schools. Maintaining the traditions of forward-looking theoretical scholarship set by the THL and Theory Out of Bounds series, Minnesota’s Posthumanities series has been acclaimed as the next move in critical theory. Edited by Cary Wolfe of Rice University, books in Posthumanities engage the changing shape of the humanities while participating in and advancing a growing dialogue centered on relationships between humans, animals, technology, and the environment.

The current direction of the University of Minnesota Press is marked by a continued commitment to emerging areas of scholarship, but the Press is equally dedicated to new forms and venues for both scholarly and trade publishing. Publication and promotion of its books, tests, and journals have been integrated into the digital environment, and worldwide networks of scholars are connected through the Press’s work. The University of Minnesota Press is a leader among university presses with the progressive content and interdisciplinary approach of its publications as well as the innovative formats in which this work is published and disseminated to international audiences and to devoted Minnesota readers.