History

Through a century of change, the University of Minnesota Press has maintained an unwavering searchlight for groundbreaking voices and ideas, a commitment to emerging areas of global scholarship, and a close connection to its communities and region. Since its founding in 1925, the Press has continually advanced in renown and influence, developing adventurous and cutting-edge editorial initiatives that have broken boundaries and defined new avenues for interdisciplinary scholarship. Today its thriving and internationally respected book program is joined by a strong and diverse journals program; the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the most widely used personality assessment instrument; and the innovative Manifold digital publishing platform. Publications about the people, cultures, and natural history of Minnesota remain central to the Press’s mission and identity, and we work with authors throughout the world to extend the impact of their writing and research through innovative methods and formats, high standards for accessibility, striking visual design, and a collaborative spirit.

BEGINNINGS

Established by the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota in July 1925, the University of Minnesota 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 formed the Committee on the Press, overseeing its early publishing activities — a connection to campus that continues to this day, as the Committee on the Press, composed of five to seven members of the University faculty who serve for three-year terms, still meets each month to review the publication of original academic manuscripts.

Ford hired a part-time editorial assistant, Margaret S. Harding, who in 1927 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 from a printer of pamphlets and bulletins into a successful academic book publisher, steering forth major publications like Thomas Sadler Roberts’s two-volume Birds of Minnesota (1934–36). Harding acquired the publishing rights to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), establishing the Press as the publisher of this premier personality assessment instrument and significant related research. 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 and Neurology, the MMPI was first published by the Press in 1943 (learn more about the MMPI).

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 prominence increased under its third director, John E. Ervin Jr., who came to Minnesota in 1957 and remained at the Press for the next thirty years. A major publishing initiative of the 1960s and early 1970s was 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 historical and contemporary American 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. These books remain in print today.

THE THL SERIES 

The Press’s editorial program took thrilling strides forward 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) secured the Press’s profile as a leading publisher of European philosophy. 

Much of Minnesota’s scholarly reputation during this period was due to the highly regarded Theory and History of Literature series, edited by two University of Minnesota faculty members, Wlad Godzich and Jochen Schulte-Sasse, with Press editor Lindsay Waters. The series dramatically altered the Press’s publishing profile and redirected the course of humanities scholarship in American higher education by encouraging and provoking dialogue among the disciplines. Spanning more than eighty volumes by the time of its completion in 1998, the “lipstick series” (as it was fondly known by graduate students, referring to its solid-color covers) 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, Gilles Deleuze, 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 continue to define its program today.

The 1980s also marked a crucial and productive period in the development of the MMPI. During the late 1950s, the test was licensed to the Psychological Corporation. To revise and further develop the MMPI, the Press resumed its publication in 1982 and established the Test Division at the Press to sponsor ongoing research and product development. By 1989, the fully revised test, the MMPI-2, was published, followed in 1992 by a version for adolescents, the MMPI-A.

When John  E. Ervin Jr. 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 (and also moved the Press from its dilapidated building next to the University laundry facilities on campus to renovated office space in a former warehouse next to the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis) . Minnesota built on ambitious initiatives in its book and test divisions, significantly expanding its regional publishing program in the 1990s and adding a journals program later that same decade.

TOWARD A SECOND CENTURY

When Douglas Armato became the fifth director of the University of Minnesota Press in 1998, he turned the Press’s legacy of innovation toward an emphasis on interdisciplinary scholarship, launching initiatives in visual arts, architectural history, and digital culture. The Press’s ever-evolving scholarly program developed new strengths in the new century. The influential Posthumanities series, edited by Cary Wolfe, engaged the changing shape of the humanities while participating in and advancing a growing dialogue centered on relationships between humans, animals, technology, and the environment. Minnesota became a premier publisher of works in Indigenous Studies, disability studies, and LGBTQ+ studies. Later, the popular Forerunners: Ideas First series brought brief, incisive “thought in action” works to the Press’s list.

An important development in the early decades of the twenty-first century was the revitalization of Minnesota’s trade and regional program. The Press expanded into new genres of publishing that celebrated our communities in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, the North Woods, and the Upper Midwest, including guidebooks, cookbooks, children’s picture books, fiction, and memoir. The Press’s ongoing strength in Minnesota history was recognized with five of the first seven Hognander History Awards, granted to the most outstanding scholarly work about the state.  Mary Wingerd’s North Country: The Making of Minnesota won the inaugural award in 2012, followed by Gary Kaunonen’s Flames of Discontent: The 1916 Minnesota Iron Ore Strike; two volumes of William D. Green’s series about the Black experience in Minnesota, Degrees of Freedom and Children of Lincoln; and David Hugill’s account of racism and inequality in Indigenous neighborhoods of postwar Minneapolis, Settler Colonial City. National recognition increased, and the Press won its first National Book Critics Circle Award in 2014 for The Essential Ellen Willis, a collection of writings by the noted feminist cultural critic. The groundbreaking cookbook The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, by chef Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley, received a prestigious James Beard Award for Best Cookbook in 2018 and was the Press’s best-selling title for many years after its release, selling well over 100,000 books and igniting a movement for Indigenous foodways and ingredients. Local partnerships with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Bell Museum, Audubon Minnesota, and other organizations helped the Press to continue issuing definitive, richly illustrated books about the state’s environment.  Minnesota’s vibrant children’s books featured culturally diverse authors and illustrators—both emerging artists as well as those already beloved in this genre—to help young readers understand issues of social justice, process difficult emotions, and appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

Digital innovation is also important to Minnesota’s creative evolution. In 2005, the Press launched the innovative Minnesota Archive Editions to return to print works from its entire backlist and commit to publishing all new titles in simultaneous print and e-book editions. The Press went on to collaborate with the CUNY Graduate Center and Cast Iron Coding to create the Manifold digital publishing platform, launched in 2017 with major grant support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and further developed with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Manifold, which enables scholars to create media-rich, multiformat digital editions, is consistently cited as one of the most elegantly designed and responsive platforms available and is now used by more than thirty publishers around the world. 

Minnesota’s publishing profile, drawing inspiration from the advances of the 1980s and 1990s, challenges the boundaries of contemporary scholarship in form and content. Recent books introduce new concepts into public discourse and push forward paradigms for thinking about the present moment and an increasingly perilous future. The Press’s Test Division continues to refine and develop MMPI instruments and research, most recently the MMPI-3, as well as overseeing translations in forty countries. The Journals Division manages the publication and distribution of fifteen journals that parallel the Press’s strengths in the humanities. Minnesota books frequently receive the highest honors from the Modern Language Association, the Association of American Geographers, and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), among many other academic societies and organizations. Press books have been recognized with 24 Minnesota Book Awards since 2000, with more than 50 books named as finalists. As it enters its second century of publishing, the impact of the University of Minnesota Press continues to expand through its local, national, and international networks, as the Press remains rooted in its impressive history while also pushing toward and staying open to the exciting and innovative opportunities that lie ahead.