Director of the MIT Press Ellen Faran tells a joke enjoyed in-house among her colleagues: “We only sign ’em up if they are hard to market!” With titles that challenge easy categorization, it’s not hard to understand the humor. “We often publish books in new areas, and we need help from booksellers to literally find a place to shelve them in the store,” says Faran. “We sometimes publish a textbook before there is even a course for it.”
One forthcoming title that defies classification is Digital_Humanities by Anne Burdick and four others (Oct.). “The book provides a game-changing report on an emerging field, and it may also be hard to shelve,” says Faran. “This situation provides just one example of why we treasure our partnerships with booksellers. Our list is not always easy to sell, but it is consistently valued by readers.”
And so it has gone for 50 years for the MIT Press. Year after year since its launch in 1962 (its first title under the MIT imprint was Loeb, Overbeek, and Wiersema’s The Electrical Double Layer Around a Spherical Colloid Particle), the press has focused on emerging fields of inquiry and interdisciplinary work—the difficult, the arcane, the up-and-coming, the visionary.
Holding together the disparate categories is the look of the press, especially the colophon, with its Bauhausian set of abstracted vertical bars that refer both to the letters M, I, and T and to books on a shelf. Created in 1962 by graphic innovator Muriel Cooper, the logo is often referred to as a landmark in 20th-century graphic design. As the longtime art director of the MIT Press, Cooper promoted the modernist look of the press’s books and other publications.
Today the press publishes more than 200 new titles a year and 30 quarterly journals. The press runs a bookstore on Main Street in Cambridge—“We’re the only university press that has a bookstore as one of its activities,” Faran says—and they have big plans for the future.
She declares: “We are thinking about more than just books and journal articles. We will be involved not just at the moment of publication but at more moments in the process than in the past, getting closer to what happens prepublication and then supporting research postpublication. We could be involved with CogNet [an electronic community for the cognitive sciences featuring MIT Press journals and books] and the way a community of scholars talks to each other at a stage before traditional publication time.”
Among the works the press is featuring at BEA are several in its new Essential Knowledge series, small paperbacks that tackle big topics written by experts in the field. Fredric Raichlen’s Waves (Nov.) offers an explanation for the nonscientist about waves generated by wind: how they travel, how they rise and break. Peter Suber’s Open Access (Mar.) lays out what open access is and what it isn’t. Other featured titles are Gohar Homayounpour’s Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran (Sept.), about a Western-trained psychoanalyst who returns to her home country of Iran to establish her practice, and Rodrigo Quian Quiroga’s Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain (Oct.), about a neuroscientist who discovers that his research findings were anticipated 50 years earlier in a story written by Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine writer.
A brochure outlining the complete history of the press, including a list of its most influential books and journals, can be picked up at the MIT Press booth (3533). Also at the booth are various special offers for booksellers placing orders at the fair and, for the self-adorning, temporary tattoos bearing the MIT Press colophon.