Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

William Terry Couch and the Politics of Academic Publishing: An Editor's Career as Lightning Rod for Controversy

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

William Terry Couch and the Politics of Academic Publishing: An Editor's Career as Lightning Rod for Controversy

Article excerpt

William Terry Couch and the Politics of Academic Publishing: An Editor's Career as Lightning Rod for Controversy. By Orvin Lee Shiflett. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2015. Pp. viii, 268. Paper, $39.95, ISBN 978-0-7864-9981-6.)

In his twenty years as head of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Press, William Terry Couch transformed academic publishing in the United States by issuing books about contemporary social issues written in clear and pointed prose for an educated, middle-class readership. By borrowing the techniques of the trade press in the service of academic scholars, university presses, Couch believed, could be the vanguard of social change. UNC Press became, as Daniel Joseph Singal has observed, "the single most influential institution in launching Modernist thought in the South" (The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919-1945 [Chapel Hill, 1982], 268). Orvin Lee Shiflett's biography of Couch chronicles Couch's "downward spiral from acclaim and national recognition to relative obscurity" after he left UNC Press in 1945, frustrated with challenges to his authority and the lack of financial support for the press (p. 215). Couch also shifted from liberalism to conservatism, and Shiflett argues that Couch, who emerges as a deeply principled but fundamentally irascible man, was a "central figure in the renaissance of American conservatism" (p. 5).

The strength of Shiflett's book lies in his treatment of Couch's career as a publisher. Couch had notable success at the University of Chicago Press for five years before he was fired for alleged managerial deficiencies. Yet Couch attributed his dismissal to ideological differences with university president Robert Maynard Hutchins. Couch spent much of the 1950s working for the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company overseeing Collier's Encyclopedia and related yearbooks, which he attempted to remake into vehicles for conservative truth telling. …

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