NYU Press was founded in 1916 by Elmer Ellsworth Brown, then Chancellor of the University. The Press was, in his words, created to "publish contributions to higher learning by eminent scholars."
Arthur Huntington Nason, a professor of English at NYU, served as the Press’s first director from its founding until 1932. No replacement was named following Nason’s retirement, and, due in part to the Great Depression, there was little activity at the Press for several years.
In 1952, Filmore Hyde, the first literary editor at The New Yorker, was named director of NYU Press. Under Hyde’s relatively brief tenure, the Press radically redefined itself several times. In his first year, Hyde helped to restructure the Press so that it ceased to serve as the university’s printing office, and instead focused exclusively on publishing fully realized books.
Freed from having to make commercial viability its primary concern, the Press returned to focusing on scholarly books. It began publishing the Proceedings of the NYU Institute of Philosophy, edited by noted philosopher and NYU professor Sidney Hook, and the Gotham Library Series, edited by NYU Professor Oscar Cargill, which focused on English and American literature. The 1960s also saw the start of the project for which NYU Press was best known for decades to follow, The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman, edited by eminent Whitman scholars Gay Wilson Allen and Sculley Bradley. Beginning with the six-volume Correspondence of Walt Whitman in 1961, this series featured more than twenty books collecting Whitman’s poems, prose writings, notebook entries, and unpublished manuscripts. Out of print for many years and commanding hundreds of dollars per volume in the used book market, the books were reissued using digital print-on-demand technology in 2007.
In addition to its strong lists in literary criticism, philosophy, and economics, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, NYU Press had a robust art history program, publishing work by such noted scholars as Millard Meiss (De Artibus Opuscula XL), Erwin Panofsky (Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic), and Richard Krautheimer (Studies in Early Christian, Medieval, and Renaissance Art), as well as a number of titles in the College Art Association Monograph series and co-publications with the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Shifts in editorial focus and the increasing expense of publishing large, heavily illustrated books eventually led the Press to discontinue its art history program.
In the 1980s, the Press began serious efforts to develop its psychology list with a number of important books and series, including the Essential Papers in Psychoanalysis series, many volumes from which remain in print to the present day. The Press began publishing in Jewish studies, another area that has remained a focus, in the late 1980s with such books as Nora Levin’s two-volume The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917 and Leo Goldberger’s The Rescue of the Danish Jews.
The 1990s saw a sharp increase in the number of titles published annual by the Press, with more than 140 books per year by the middle of the decade. The Press also expanded the prestigious Essential Papers series with the new sub-series Essential Papers on Jewish Studies. Gender studies and women’s studies became important interdisciplinary areas for the Press, and nearly two dozen titles were published in the series The Cutting Edge: Lesbian Life and Literature.
The Press’s publishing program in law also began in full in the 1990s. In 1996, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic began editing the Critical America series, devoted to the study of law and critical race theory. The series was one of the most important and successful in the Press’s history, ran for more than ten years, and included more than eighty titles.
The Press’s publishing program as it exists today continued to take shape through the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 1999 launch of the Sexual Cultures series, edited by NYU professors José Muñoz and Ann Pellegrini, marked an important moment in the queer studies at the Press. The law list expanded beyond critical race theory to include such books as Jack Balkin’s What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said. The Press’s interest books on the broad theme of race and ethnicity continued to expand with books in African American studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino/a studies. The Latino/a cultural studies program was highlighted by The Latino/a Condition Reader and Latino/a Popular Culture edited by Michelle Habell-Pallan and Mary Romero. While maintaining a strong presence in Jewish studies, the Press expanded its religion list and launched two important series, Religion, Race and Ethnicity, and Qualitative Studies in Religion. The launch of Jeff Ferrell’s Alternative Criminology series marked the beginning of what has become an important area of sociological inquiry for the Press, and in the early 2000s the Press expanded rapidly into the growing area of criminology.
During this period of 2001-2007, the press’s scholarly reputation grew and with it, the number of major academic awards received. Among the most notable were National Jewish Book Awards for The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust (2002); and The Rabbi’s Wife (2006), by Shuly Schwartz; Convergence Culture (2007), by Henry Jenkins, won the Katherine Singer Kovács Award from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies; Andrew Wiest’s Vietnam’s Forgotten Army won the 2009 Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award for Biography; and Dana Luciano’s Arranging Grief won the MLA First Book Prize in 2008.
In 2005, the Press published the first volume in the Clay Sanskrit Library, co-published with the JJC Foundation. The series, one of the most ambitious Sanskrit publishing ventures in modern history, features great classics of Sanskrit literature with transliterated Sanskrit and modern English translation on facing pages. To date, more than fifty titles have been published in the series, including substantial portions of the multi-volume Mahabharata and the Ramayana sagas.
NYU Press continues to expand its publishing program by exploring new areas that connect organically with established ones. The Warfare and Culture series combines the Press’s strengths in history and the social sciences by bringing socio-cultural analysis to bear on military history. The Biopolitics series examines the intersection of various practices of medicine and science with human bodies and lives through an interdisciplinary perspective. And the Mellon Foundation-funded American Literatures Initiative has allowed the Press to expand its scholarly publishing in American literary studies from the revolutionary movements of the late eighteenth century through the early years of modernism at the turn of the twentieth century.
In choosing 15 Feisty Presses (June 2010), the Huffington Post selected NYU Press as one of the most consistently innovative presses, determined to be “ahead of the cultural curve—pushing literary trends—rather than behind it” and embodying “a willingness to explore the outermost bounds of American literary culture with each new venture.”
As the publishing industry continues to be influenced by new technology and its concomitant challenges and opportunities, NYU Press prides itself on being among the vanguard in exploring the potential of new innovations while remaining true to its founding scholarly principles. In the more than ninety years since its founding, the Press has sought to reflect the intellectual vitality of New York University by publishing a wide array of provocative and compelling titles, as well as works of lasting scholarly and reference value. While the Press’s mandate has evolved over the decades, adjusting to changes in the academy and in the publishing world, Elmer Ellsworth Brown’s words ring true to this day.
NYU Press Directors
Arthur Huntington Nason, 1916–1932
no director, 1932–1946
Jean B. Barr (interim director), 1946–1952
Filmore Hyde, 1952–1957
Wilbur McKee, acting director, 1957–1958
William B. Harvey, 1958–1966
Christopher Kentera, 1966–1974
Malcolm C. Johnson, 1974–1981
Colin Jones, 1981–1996
Niko Pfund, 1996–2000
Steve Maikowski, 2001–present