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History of UNC Press

Publishing Excellence Since 1922

For over ninety years, the University of North Carolina Press has earned national and international recognition for quality books and the thoughtful way they are published. A fundamental commitment to publishing excellence defines UNC Press, made possible our community of publishing professionals, authors, advisors, and by the generous support of individual and institutional donors who created its endowment.

Our History Bears Repeating

In 1922, on the campus of the nation's oldest state university, thirteen distinguished educators and civic leaders met to charter a publishing house. Their creation, the University of North Carolina Press, was the first university press in the South and one of the first in the nation. Today, the Press is an affiliate of the 16-campus UNC system, and its purpose remains to advance scholarship and to serve the people of the state and the region.

From Our Vantage Point, We Can See For Miles And Miles

Our publishing perspective is at once local, national, and international, extending from our office in Chapel Hill across North Carolina and around the globe. We proudly publish the best work on a variety of subjects by scholars and writers from all across the nation. Today, the UNC Press imprint is recognized worldwide as a mark of publishing excellence—both in what we publish and in how we publish it.

UNC Press books explore important questions, spark lively debates, generate ideas, and move fields of inquiry forward. They illuminate the life of the mind. With more than 4,000 titles published and almost 1,500 titles still in print, UNC Press produces books that endure.

We Set Trends As Well As Type

From the start, UNC Press took a different, pioneering approach by creating one of the earliest and strongest regional publishing programs in the country. UNC Press books on varied topics have helped shape a cultural legacy and preserve it for future generations.

The UNC Press distinguished itself early on by refusing to shy away from the controversial issues of the day, adopting the principle that our books should not merely observe but should seek to understand, to explain, and thereby to improve our world. We publish books that challenge personal and public thinking and books that enlighten and delight us. The idea was—and is—to publish books that have an impact and make a difference.

For example, the UNC Press was the first scholarly publisher to develop an ongoing program of books by and about African Americans, beginning in the late 1920s. By 1950, nearly 100 such volumes had appeared under its imprint, including John Hope Franklin's first book, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790–1860, published in 1943. And in the 1970s, the UNC Press was again in the vanguard, recognizing the emerging interdisciplinary field of women's studies, taking an early lead in publishing feminist literary and historical works of distinction. Both African American studies and women's studies remain important parts of our publishing program today.

Scholars and archivists have lauded our multi-volume documentary editions—such as The Papers of John Marshall, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, The Black Abolitionist Papers, and The Complete Works of Captain John Smith. Acclaimed reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture broke new ground and led to the publication of other city, state, and regional encyclopedias; and books like North Carolina Architecture and the Encyclopedia of North Carolina have set a standard for regional reference works that other publishers now follow.

Innovation continues to flourish at the Press, both in identifying emerging areas of scholarship and in harnessing technology. The Press today is a leader in exploring electronic publishing to make its titles available to libraries in non-print as well as traditional (ink-on-paper) formats. But no matter how timely the subject or how up-to-date the method of distribution, the highest standards in traditional book publishing—from selection to presentation—are always honored at UNC Press. And as a result, UNC Press is a benchmark against which many other university presses are measured.

How Do We Publish? Let Us List The Ways

If the measure of a publishing house is the quality of its books, then the UNC Press holds an enviable record. Over the past 90 years, the Press has received virtually every important book award, including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize in history, the Bancroft Prize, and the top prizes given by leading scholarly societies and respected organizations like the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Architects, and the Royal Society of Canada.

UNC Press books have won over 40 awards and honors annually in each of the past several years, a striking testament to the excellence of our publishing program. Over the years, UNC Press titles have won literally hundreds of major prizes in American and European history, classics, political science, musicology, literary studies, architecture, human rights, legal history, and the law. In 2002-2003, UNC Press books won a series of high-profile awards unparalleled in a single year by any other university press, public or private.

An important part of our commitment to publishing excellence involves the craft of publishing. The Press has earned widespread recognition for thoughtful editorial work and numerous awards for sophisticated typography and superb book design.

We Book Talent

When the Press was founded in 1922, university presses published work strictly for scholars and by scholars, primarily those from the home faculty. Today, Press authors come from all across the nation and around the world.

The roster of UNC Press authors is long and impressive, including historians such as John Hope Franklin, Edmund Morgan, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, and Nell Irvin Painter; writers and critics such as Elizabeth Lawrence, Cleanth Brooks, and Paul Green; journalists such as Josephus Daniels and Lillian Smith; and local celebrities such as Mildred (Mama Dip) Council, Bland Simpson, David Stick, and Bill Neal. Thanks to our respected authors and their good work, the name of the Press, and of the University of North Carolina, is regularly carried across the country and around the globe.

Moving Forward

UNC Press is harnessing new technologies to make all our titles widely available and to foster new reading experiences in the digital age. In addition to the projects below, the Press has a robust blog and is active on Twitter and Facebook. In addition, we are committed to helping our authors navigate the social media landscape. Read on to learn about just a few of our new projects.

UNC Press Enduring Editions brings hundreds of our classic books back into print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

DocSouth Books are a collaboration of UNC Press and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library. This project brings selected classic works from the digital library of Documenting the American South back into print. DocSouth Books are downloadable as e-books or print-on-demand publications and are unaltered from the original publication.

UNC Press Shorts excerpt rousing, shorter narratives from UNC Press titles and present them as engaging, quick reads. Presented exclusively as e-books, these shorts present essential concepts, defining moments, and concise introductions to topics. They are intended to stir the imagination and encourage exploration of the original publications from which they are drawn.

UNC Press Omnibus Editions bundle definitive, closely related volumes into one searchable e-book for easy reading on the Kindle, iPad, or other device. With our Omnibus collections, we're bringing our bestselling titles to digital in new and creative ways.

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