Penn News Today sat down with Peter Dougherty, the University of Pennsylvania Fox Family Pavilion Scholar and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program for the 2017-18 academic year to talk about his fellowship, his return to Philadelphia after 12 years directing Princeton University Press, and the future of scholarly books in the world of publishing.
Q You’ve been hailed as a giant in the publishing industry having directed Princeton University Press, led the American University Presses Association, and served on various publishing association boards. This fall, Princeton University Press is hosting a one-day conference in your honor on how scholarly books shape the world. Some might want to rest on their laurels in retirement. What drew you to come to Penn to work in the yearlong fellowship?
A What drew me to Penn was a wonderful invitation from John DiIulio, whom I’ve known and admired for years, and the chance to work on a new book and to talk publishing with John and his team at the Fox Leadership Program. Being at Penn will give me the opportunity to be with a different cast of colleagues than I’m accustomed to, which always leads to thinking in new and inventive ways. I can’t wait to get started.
Q You’re a native Philadelphian, born and raised in West Philadelphia who graduated from West Philadelphia Catholic High School and La Salle College. Joining the Fox Leadership Program is a homecoming of sorts. What do you look forward to in the year ahead in terms of working in your hometown?
A I am a proud West Philadelphian having spent much of my youth in and around my family’s bar—now long gone—at 40th and Chestnut Streets. What has always appealed to me about West Philadelphia is its vitality, which feeds as it does from the interaction of the many diverse communities that make it up. Remarkably, it was that way when I was a kid; I know it’s even more so now; and I look to rediscover it from the vantage of Penn.
Q During your one-year fellowship at Penn, you plan to write a book, your first since Who's Afraid of Adam Smith?: How the Market Got Its Soul. Will your new work be a followup or will it cover a different topic?
A My new book will be substantially different from my Adam Smith book. This new project will be mainly about the future of scholarly books and publishing. Book authors and publishers alike have weathered a revolution in the digital age, one that raised many a doubt about the future of books and opened some new avenues. I take the strong position that books are here to stay, are more vital than ever as a form of expression, and that opportunities abound for authors and publishers to find exciting ways to connect with readers, if we can discover and develop them. My book will explore this emerging culture of communications.
Q The Fox Program encourages students to pursue their passions through interactions with some of today’s most dynamic leaders and through academically based community service courses and service learning. Both faculty and students will likely seek you out for advice on their writing projects. How will you engage with them?
A Two ways. First, I would like to meet with them one-on-one to discuss their projects; and second, I plan to conduct some lunchtime workshops during my year with prospective authors in the Fox Program. I’m also hoping to entice my excellent colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Press to join me in developing a few related workshops.
Q You were surveyed for a Chronicle of Higher Education piece and asked what book you wish someone would write. Your answer was brief, “a one- volume major history of diplomacy.” Why that book? Why now?
A The practice of diplomacy has always struck me as an invaluable political art and one that needs intellectual restatement every generation or so in order to remind leaders and their advisors of its importance as well as how it’s done. The current state of world affairs would seem to remind us that it’s high time for a grand new treatment. Besides the scholarship, the story of diplomatic history is an inherently exciting one, promising one of those special books that can entertain as well as educate. It’s been nearly twenty-five years since the last major book on this subject, by Henry Kissinger, was published. It’s time for a new one.