Happy 100th Birthday to Wits University Press!

It is 100 years since the first book was published by the ‘University of the Witwatersrand Press’ on 10 April 1922.

It is 100 years since the first book was published by the ‘University of the Witwatersrand Press’ on 10 April 1922. Called The National Resources of South Africa, it was written by RA Lehfeldt, a Professor of Economics who spoke out against the inequities of the migrant labour system already prevalent on the mines at the time. J.C. (Jan) Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, wrote the preface in which he praised Lehfeldt for ‘undertaking the preliminary economic survey of this country’. This book was financed by the South African School of Mines and Technology which, together with the Council of Education, Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1922 became the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).   

The establishment of a University Press had been proposed to Principal Jan H. Hofmeyr at the first ordinary Senate meeting of the newly established university on 27 March 1922. According to the Press’ archive, a Committee for Publications was set up in the same year which reviewed and made publication decisions based on the ‘academic value’ of submitted manuscripts. Principal Hofmeyr became a member of this committee, and the first books published reflected his views that a proper university should not just serve the needs of industry; their topics included medicine, linguistics and economics.

In 1925 the Publications Committee recommended that ‘Researches undertaken in this University be proceeded with’. Thus began the Press’ close association with the research aims of Wits, an association characterised from the start by an attention to academic rigour.  The editorial vision followed by the Press was largely laid down in these early years, when it aimed at a balance between the arts and sciences; 100 years later, it continues to publish innovative research in a wide range of subject areas in order to inform debate for the greater good of society. And it has always championed the contribution of local research to a global body of knowledge.  

A trip through the ‘time tunnel’, as current Vice Chancellor Prof Zeblon Vilakazi recently described a look back at the university’s origins, shows how much has changed. The Press’ total backlist built up over a century of consecutive publishing consists of more than 3000 titles. Its authorship has changed, reflecting the changing demographic of the academy as a whole, and of course technologies have changed: where once an old Reklam print process was used, XML formats now enable seamless publication in print, ebook and PDF formats. The first agents for the Press were Longman, Green & Co in London; now computer-readable metadata is used to promote books to physical retailers and digital aggregators across the world, both for sale and in Open Access formats.

We hope you will find something of value in the pages of our Centenary Catalogue. Happy reading!

Veronica Klipp (Publisher)

10 April 2022

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