Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to prepare, we at the MIT Press are thinking about what it means to have an influence. As part of the anniversary celebration, the MIT Museum is planning the “MIT 150 Exhibition” which will feature 150 “evocative objects” that represent major elements or moments that have either significantly shaped MIT’s history or that invoke aspects of MIT’s identity. The exhibit will feature 25 of our most influential titles—including books and journals— that have shaped their respective disciplines over time.
The MIT Museum has reached out to include a wide range of voices from the MIT community in putting together the exhibit. To this end, Deborah Douglas, MIT Museum Science and Technology Curator, met with a panel of MITP staff members last week for a lunchtime discussion to tackle the question of what makes a book or journal influential—is it simply a matter of sales and citations, or is influence based on less measurable things?
Representatives from the various departments at the Press came armed with extensive lists of possible titles, and a conversation ensued regarding the criteria for book selection. Discussion was rich and varied from book to book and journal to journal. Acquisitions editors argued for the major players in their fields, and the titles that garnered the most nominations not only redefined, but occasionally created a new discipline. One such innovative book that had many advocates was Michael Gazzaniga’s classic reference, The Cognitive Neurosciences, which was instrumental in the development of this growing field. Some in our Production department talked about particular books’ importance and influence as objects, achievements for their own novel or beautiful design. Our Marketing department pulled out a list of the bestsellers over the course of MIT Press history, but many argued that a highly successful title wasn’t necessarily a highly influential title. As a group, we zeroed in on those titles that played the largest a role in shaping intellectual discourse throughout the years.
The discussion continues, as well as our collaboration with the MIT Museum in anticipation of the Institute’s big year. Visit the MIT 150 Exhibition, set to open on January 7, 2011, to see which titles make the cut!