More Than a Diploma from a University

by Paula Stuart Warren 

I just spent about $3,000.00 a couple of hours ago . . . but only in my mind. I was tallying up books I want to purchase from several university presses. The publications of University Presses are too often ignored by family historians.

Some people think of these as presses only for publishing dissertations. Some do that heavily–and happily, some require a dissertation to be rewritten for a published book format that someone might purchase. But there is a world of literature that encompasses so much more in these presses. These presses play a dynamic role in the world of books.

University Presses
The Association of American University Presses reports that one in every ten new books published in the United States is published by a university press. That statistic alone should tell us we need to pay more attention to these publications. AAUP member societies also publish more than 700 scholarly journals such as “American Indian Quarterly,” “Civil War History,” and “Eighteenth Century Life.” Not all university presses are members of AAUP, but the membership totals 125 presses including some outside of the U.S.

What Types of Books
History, social history, and history of specific ethnic groups, biographies (may not be your ancestor, but maybe the banker in that city or town), medieval history, migration studies, and the list does not stop with these few topics. Current events and politics are the focus of many of their books. The University of Utah Press listings include many on Western history. Most websites for such presses emphasize that their publications are “scholarly” and indeed many are written by college and university professors. As family historians, we should remember to see if it is indeed scholarly, or that the book is a compilation of material from previously published but related books or articles.

In this age of budget cutbacks everywhere, presses may find themselves in a money crunch. Many remain quite solvent, but there are those that have found it beneficial to join together; others join for other benefits such as group advertising and distribution. An example is the University Press of New England which is composed of these universities: Brandeis, Dartmouth, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Tufts, and Vermont.

Beyond the State
A press in a southern state might publish something related to the Midwest or to New England. A northern press might publish a book on Confederate soldiers. A press in another country might have several publications related to the U.S. I skimmed Stanford, Cork, Southern Methodist, and Arkansas websites and that dollar amount I mentioned above must be tripled by now.

Finding University Press Publications
First thing to do is check online. I can’t promise that all have a website, but I have checked many and find myself getting lost in ordering books in my mind! Some “regular” book dealers carry books from university presses, but not all their titles. Used bookstores and online searches may yield you some bargains. In the exhibit area at genealogy conferences and seminars, a few book dealers do carry some titles from these presses. College and university book stores are another good place to find publications of the presses. Sensibly we won’t be able to afford all the gems we locate, but the collections of a larger university or public library, historical society, or state library may include some of the books you wish to consult.

The Digital Age
An increasing number have reproduced books online. I skimmed through a few but wanted a couple of them to read as I sit on my balcony. This past July 13th, Rice University Press (Houston) announced that it was the “first fully digital academic press.” ( Many others have digitized some books and journals.

Don’t Neglect These
You may already know the value of these publications–and you might be surprised to see that some books on your bookshelf at home are from university presses. Look into such publications and keep that credit card handy. I guarantee you will find books to purchase.

Check Out These Websites

Amsterdam University Press
You can read the site in Dutch or English.

Association of American University Presses
Includes links to the websites of member presses.

Edinburgh University Press
I found some wonderful histories for parts of Scotland that my family came from and also interesting clan histories. This press, located in Scotland, has a subject division of “American Studies.”

Harvard University Press

Syracuse University Press
“Each year Syracuse University Press publishes new and groundbreaking books in specialized areas including New York State, Middle East Studies, Judaica, Geography, Irish Studies, Native American Studies, Religion, and Television and Popular Culture.”

University of California Press

University of Nebraska Press

University of Oklahoma

University Press of New England

About the author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. She will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e. Davenport, IA).

Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)

  • August 30-September 2, 2006:
    Four-day Conference Boston, Massachusetts
    Federation of Genealogical Societies/New England Historic Genealogical Society
  • October 7, 2006, St. Paul, Minnesota
    Tracing Your Family History: Footsteps Online and Off
    Minnesota Historical Society
  • October 14, 2006, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
    Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Fall Seminar
  • October 27-28, 2006, Washington, D.C.
    Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Conference on Early-American Records

7 thoughts on “More Than a Diploma from a University

  1. For anyone looking for Native American history, try the University of Arizona. Many years ago, after reading my first ‘Tony Hillerman’ novel, I decided to order all the books that the ‘hero’ found on the ‘victims’ book shelf, and in doing so, found this University Library. I have read Di’nee Bahane-probably mispelled as I no longer have the book, (the Navaho Creation Story), and a wonderful book on Science and Shamanism.

    Anyhow, thank you for mentioning University Press. Also, in Genealogy, my early family is mostly Lutheran and early Mennonites. Don’t overlook ‘Religious Schools’ for not only history, but very old published genealogys!


  2. Paula,
    Thanks for your articles, I always learn something new, then forward them to all my genealogy friends. I’m glad you’re keeping yourself busy. JoAnn Stidger Becker

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