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Terra Firma: Trinity University Press blog

American University Presses Conference 2016

by Steffanie Mortis on

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I couldn’t fully articulate the feeling that this year’s Association of American University Presses conference left me with until the day after it ended, when I visited Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum.

My friend and I wandered through the main exhibit, taking in The ThinkerThe Kiss, and various bronze busts. As we were leaving, a docent announced a short gallery tour beginning in five minutes. My friend and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to stay, and I’m so glad we did.

The docent explained Rodin’s creative process—how he asked his models to move freely so he could study their anatomy, facial expressions, and personality. Some of his subjects, especially the political figures and other notable people he portrayed, were uncomfortable with this scrutiny, but Rodin’s main objective was to convey his subjects’ character, and to do this he had to study them closely.

The docent identified the works that make up The Gates of Hell, Rodin’s seminal piece based on Dante’s Inferno, and explained how each work has added layers of meaning when it functions as part of the whole. She pointed out the seam lines where molds were joined to make the cast. Rodin purposely left these lines, along with thumbprints and other marks—usually viewed as flaws and eliminated during the sculpting process—to pay homage to the artistic process.

The hour-long crash course on Rodin gave me a deeper appreciation for his art in the same way that the AAUP community—full of people with similar challenges but different ways of approaching them—filled me with admiration for the book making process.

I steeped myself in engaging sessions that tackled the terminology of copyediting, manuscript preparation guidelines, the delicate art of acquisitions, and ushering a project through to publication. I participated in discussions about issues specific to university presses, such as fundraising strategies and the peer review process, with acquisitions editors, digital marketing specialists, consultants, designers, press directors, editorial assistants, and newcomers like me.

I was heartened by the common question threading these discussions: How will university presses incorporate changing technologies to publish relevant books—whatever form they take—that will continue to reach their intended audience? I’m encouraged that, as a whole, university presses are expanding traditional publishing models to incorporate delivering information in nontraditional formats. We’re all adapting our views of the industry to evolving modes of education and communication.

When we came to The Three Shades in the garden outside the Rodin Museum, the docent suggested that we walk around the sculpture slowly. “Notice what is the same and different about each figure,” she said. “Notice how your perspective influences your perception.”

No matter how much you enjoy the work you do, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of daily tasks. My time in Philadelphia and at the AAUP conference allowed me to take a short walk around university publishing from different perspectives. I returned to Trinity University Press with a deeper appreciation and renewed enthusiasm for the work we do—both process and product.

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