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WPI Studies in Science, Technology, and Culture

Little-known university press book series is a venue for diverse ideas

Lance Schachterle, associate provost for academic affairs and professor of English, is editor of the series.

By Joan Killough-Miller
Photography by Patrick O’Connor

What do Edward Alton Parrish, William Shakespeare, and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa have in common? (Answer below) For that matter, where can you go to read up on the downside of globalization, or the interplay of technology and magic in Latin American fiction? The common source for this wellspring of knowledge is WPI’s little-known but wide-ranging university press.

Since 1984, the WPI Studies in Science, Technology, and Culture series has grown to include 20 volumes, published in partnership with Peter Lang Publishing Inc., the North American branch of a European firm founded in the 1920s to help German doctoral candidates disseminate their research. From this traditional niche, Peter Lang has evolved into a multinational force in academic publishing, with offices in Switzerland, England, and the United States.

Lance Schachterle, associate provost for academic affairs and professor of English, serves as general editor for the series, reviewing manuscripts with a committee of faculty experts. “The books have to be on a topic that gets at, in some fashion, the impact of science and technology on some cultural issue; and that link can be philosophical, historical, aesthetic, or political,” he says. “Or the inverse—which is less common, but in some ways more interesting—to try to connect the cultural and historical influences of a given time and place to the science and technology that was created in that society.”

Peter Lang Online

For a complete list of titles go to www.peterlangusa.com. A 20 percent discount is available to alumni and members of the WPI community; call Felicia Caggiano at 212-647-7700.

The series invites contributions from all over and offers WPI’s faculty a forum for their unique knowledge. “In Worcester, Massachusetts”: Essays on Elizabeth Bishop honors Worcester’s “brilliant native daughter,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose best-known works are set here. Laura Jehn Menides, who retired from WPI last year as professor of English, served as editor of the monograph, an offshoot from the 1997 Elizabeth Bishop Conference and Poetry Festival that Menides organized at WPI. Associate Professor of Spanish Ángel A. Rivera has written widely on themes of modernity and modernization in Spanish Caribbean literature. His book Eugenio Mar’a de Hostos y Alejandro Tapia y Rivera: Avatares de una modernidad caribeña focuses on the influence of two nineteenth century writers on the literature and culture of Puerto Rico.

Although academic publishing is experiencing academic pressures—Northeastern University Press almost went under last year, and others are in jeopardy—the WPI Studies series occupies a unique niche, with a small, but dedicated audience that includes standing orders from university libraries. “Lang specializes in small press runs—typically 300 to 500 copies—of books of a very specific scholarly nature,” says Schachterle. “Their business model enables them to make a profit by publishing limited quantities of a large number of titles, worldwide, every year.” He points out that even the best sellers from an academic press are rarely blockbusters in the commercial sense.

Schachterle, who has written about physics and technology in the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, says he would like to see the series grow to include some contemporary authors, or some current science fiction that explores cutting-edge issues such as artificial intelligence or the interface of virtual and traditional reality. The best works in the series, he says, underscore WPI’s mission: “To ensure that all of our graduates not only understand how to create new technologies, but understand the social and ethical implications of managing those very same technologies and the moral and ethical implications and challenges of the dominance of technology in our culture.”

Answer: All are authors or subjects in the series. Parrish, WPI’s 14th president, contributed the first chapter of Liberal Education in Twenty-First Century Engineering; Shakespeare is the subject of Broken Symmetry: A Study of Agency in Shakespeare’s Plays; the achievements of Roman inventor-architect Marcus Agrippa (63-12 B.C.) are explored in The Engineer in History.

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