The SAAD Series and Collaborative Publishing: A #UPWeek 2016 Blog Tour Post


It’s the penultimate day of University Press Week 2016! All week long university presses have been participating in the UP Week Blog Tour. As always, we are thrilled to participate, and excited about our take on today’s blog post theme, “Throw Back to the Future.” In looking back over the history of the innovative South Asia Across the Disciplines series, a Mellon-funded collaborative project of Columbia University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and the University of California Press, we hope to potentially spark some thought about the future of collaborative projects between university presses in the future.

Make sure you check out the blogs of other presses posting today: Yale University Press, Indiana University Press, Seminary Co-op Bookstores, University of Michigan Press, IPR License, MIT Press, University of Toronto Press Journals, and the University of Georgia Press!

The SAAD Series and Collaborative Publishing

In 2008, Columbia University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and the University of California Press were awarded a grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a new series of books showcasing exciting scholarship about South Asia across a wide range of fields. The South Asia Across the Disciplines series has published groundbreaking first monographs that aim to raise new questions for the field of South Asian studies for eight years.

While the series’ mission of publishing in an underserved scholarly field is a point of pride for all three of the contributing presses, so too is the unorthodox and innovative way that the series approaches the publication process. Scholars interested in submitting manuscripts for possible inclusion in the series submit their manuscript to the series rather than to any one of the three presses. Projects are considered by an editorial board of scholars from all three member institutions and are then published by the press whose expertise, backlist, and presence in the field will best serve the author and the book. Editors at all three presses help make this determination and then guide the projects through the publication process.

The SAAD series is, unfortunately, at something of a crossroads, as its funding is running short. We thought it would be particularly appropriate, then, to take this opportunity to take a look back at the series from a variety of points of view, including series editorial board members, authors, and editors who worked with books in the series, in order to showcase the way that this innovative project helped foster communities of scholars in the field of South Asian Studies, but also how it helped foster a unique publishing community. In a time when university presses are looking for new and exciting ways to collaborate with each other and with their institutions, the unique experience of publishing books in the SAAD series may provide a direction for presses to explore in their desire to continue to foster scholarly communities.

Sheldon Pollock is a member of the SAAD editorial board, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, and author of many books, including A Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics:

South Asia across the Disciplines was designed to address a series of opportunities and challenges specific to the organization, character, and production of knowledge about the subcontinent in American universities.

Organizationally, scholarship on South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) has been cultivated in depth at relatively few universities and has been published by relatively few presses. Combining the faculty resources of three of the strongest programs and presses for identifying outstanding new work, reviewing and editing manuscripts, and bringing them to the public has been one of SAAD’s most prominent innovations.

Conceptually, South Asia as an object of study has been divided up—not always beneficially—between disciplines and area programs for the past fifty years. SAAD has offered a way to transcend this diffurcation, and not only by its very existence as a series. The editors have actively encouraged scholarship that seeks to combine disciplinary and areal approaches, or to move beyond old dichotomies. This conceptual reorientation has been the hallmark of some of our most successful volumes.

Given the nature of academic publishing today, a substantial number of the first books that have appeared in SAAD—especially those in the hardest to publish domain, the non-modern humanistic–might never have received a hearing at these leading publishers in the absence of an endowed series. That several of these books have won major prizes from learned societies shows how justified that hearing has been.

Gauri Viswanathan is also member of the SAAD editorial board, Class of 1933 Professor in the Humanities, and author of several books, including Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India

SAAD represents a unique collaboration between the three major university presses of Columbia, Chicago, and California, and between the South Asian faculty affiliated with them. The series arose out of a concern that the best South Asian scholarship, particularly by first-time authors, was either being marginalized or not getting published at all by a market driven US publishing industry. A generous grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, along with book subventions from the South Asia centers at Columbia, Chicago, and California, helped ensure the ongoing publication of the most outstanding scholarship on South Asia, spanning a wide array of academic fields. “Across the Disciplines” in our series title is not a mere characterization of disciplinary range but prioritizes the ability to speak to disciplines other than one’s own and perhaps even challenge their accepted categories.

A collaboration like SAAD has not been done before, to the best of my knowledge, and it has set the standard for the sharing of scholarly resources among universities. While we three series editors read all the manuscripts and discuss them among ourselves, which includes writing detailed comments for the benefit of the authors, we also solicit readings from our faculty in cases where their expertise bears directly on an author’s specialisation. The intention is to have the strongest possible manuscript in order to ensure press approval, which of course is dependent on outside readers reports. Admittedly, this is a long process, and we’ve struggled to cut down on the time without compromising on quality or rejecting manuscripts out of hand.

Personally, I must say that reading the books for this series has been one of my most rewarding academic experiences. I have learned a lot and been continually impressed with the cutting-edge work of young scholars, who boldly push boundaries to throw unexpected new light on well traversed areas of study. Other young scholars have unlocked new areas of research by turning their gaze on insufficiently studied figures, whose texts enable the writing of an expansive cultural historiography of South Asia. The impressive list of top prizes won by SAAD authors has been one of the crowning achievements of this series.

Yigal Bronner is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was the author of one of the very first books in the SAAD series, Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration:

I will say, first, that SAAD opened up a venue for the publication of first-rate studies on highly diverse topics, studies that use a variety of lenses and disciplines. A quick look at the list of monographs published since 2010 indicates that the series was true to its mission to work across disciplines, with books on literature, language, religion, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history, be it precolonial, colonial, or postcolonial. In fact, the interdisciplinary vision is visible not just in the diverse list of publications but also in many of the individual books that each use more than one disciplinary approach or abridge the pervasive scholarly divide between the precolonial and postcolonial. The series, moreover, was designed from the start to enable the publication of first books, and one result of its success so far is that it gave voice to a whole cadre of scholars, all in the early stages of their career, who are committed to a broad and innovative approach to the study of South Asia. Finally, the fact that three major university presses agreed to collaborate on this project gave unprecedented visibility to cutting-edge studies of things South Asian, not always the easiest topic to market. It obviously also helped to create new funds for the publication of books in the context of increasing financial constrains. In addition, the fact that SAAD’s books were also printed in India (with local publishers such as Permanent Black and Primus) made them accessible and affordable to a large South Asian audience that is thirsty for such studies but finds them hard to come by. More personally, I can say that as an author of a book on a rather esoteric topic–simultaneous, “bitextual” literature, most of it in arcane languages–I greatly benefitted from the stage provided by SAAD, as, of course, from working with the professional and highly efficient staff of Columbia University Press.

Wendy Lochner is publisher for philosophy and religion at Columbia University Press, and she has published a wide range of books in the SAAD series:

I was a cheerleader for the SAAD series from the beginning! I’m very interested in South Asian philosophies and religions, and of course Columbia University Press has always had a strong list in these areas. It was exhilarating to be able to encourage young scholars writing their first books to submit to the generously funded SAAD series rather than, all too often, having to tell them that their work was “too specialized for our list” because we couldn’t anticipate even average monograph sales. It has been my privilege to work with Andrew Quintman, Andrew Nicholson, A.Azfar Moin Christian Wedemeyer, and Walter Hakala–whose books all won major awards–and most recently with Kristin Scheible, whose book was just published on November 8, 2016.

Jennifer Crewe is the director of Columbia University Press, and was the editorial director at the press when the series was created. She has also worked on many books in the SAAD series:

The SAAD series was conceived when the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation put out a call for university presses to apply for grants for publishing programs that were collaborative among two or more university presses and in which the presses could share some of the tasks and costs of publication. The grants were intended to bolster publication in fields in which low sales had caused presses to reduce their publications. South Asian studies was one such field. Sheldon Pollock and I worked on a grant application for a first-book publication program that would involve the presses and the South Asia scholars at three institutions–the University of California, The University of Chicago, and Columbia University–that had stellar programs. An editorial board of scholars from each institution would select manuscripts for consideration, and editors at all three presses would manage the publication process and share in marketing costs. The series quickly became known among scholars across the country and beyond. We have so far published twenty nine books in the series and have three more in the works. The Mellon funds have now run out but we are hoping to find other means of support to keep the series alive.

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