Ellen Faran, Director of The MIT Press, reflects on last week’s PROSE Awards ceremony.
By coincidence, “eighteen years in the making” described each of the two books featured at the PROSE awards ceremony in Washington, DC last week. The PROSE awards recognize excellence in professional and scholarly publishing and are judged by distinguished industry experts. This year’s engaging ceremony provided, along with the chance to applaud several MIT Press category winners*, many good reminders about the things we value in scholarly publishing.
Last year’s winner of the top prize, the R.R. Hawkins Award, was Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by Eltis et al., a comprehensive reference work published by Yale University Press. At this year’s awards ceremony, we saw a new short film about the making of the Atlas. I can’t report on the details of this process, of which I have only a fuzzy grasp, but my lasting impressions from the film are the large collaborative team involved (including funders, scholars, cartographers, and the Press); and that team’s clear vision of the book form as superbly effective in presenting this material (to accompany an openly-available database). These impressions call to mind MIT Press’ Atlas of Science by Katy Börner, another Atlas that featured collaborative effort and vision behind its making.
The 2012 Hawkins award went to The Diffusion Handbook: Applied Solutions for Engineers by Thambynayagam, published by McGraw Hill. My grasp of this highly complex, 2,000-page hardcover book is even fuzzier, but I was struck by its evident usefulness for its technical audience and by the author’s invention of a new visual icon system for organizing the solutions he presents (the book contains a 125-page table of contents using these icons!).
The Diffusion Handbook reminded me of several of our own completely unique works, books whose new concepts required custom editorial solutions and/or breathtakingly detailed production work. These include Shape by George Stiny, Color for the Sciences by Jan Koenderink, Aaaaw to Zzzzzd by John Bevis, and The Book of Michael of Rhodes, volumes 1-3, edited by David McGee, Alan Stahl, and Pamela Long. Likely some of these were eighteen years (or more) in the making, as well.
*MIT Press 2011 PROSE Award category winners are Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes by Louise A. Mozingo (Architecture & Urban Planning); The Fate of Greenland: Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change by Philip Conkling, Richard Alley, Wallace Broecker and George Denton (Earth Sciences); and When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans by Paula J. Caplan (Psychology).
Honorable Mentions include Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw (Architecture & Urban Planning); Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art by Gwen Allen (Art History & Criticism); Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System by Richard K. Lester and David M. Hart (Business, Finance & Management); and Engineering Systems: Meeting Human Needs in a Complex Technological World by Olivier L. de Weck, Daniel Roos and Christopher L. Magee (Engineering & Technology).