Berghahn Books was founded in 1994 by Marion Berghahn; however, the roots of the firm go back much further and continue to influence our mission to this day. In celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2019, we want to mark this occasion by not only looking ahead, but also by looking back on the journey that has taken us where we are today and laid the foundations that guide us into the future.
Why not just start a publishing company?
Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, Marion Berghahn emigrated to England with her husband in 1969. She had studied Romance Languages, Philosophy and English/American Studies at the universities of Hamburg and Freiburg. Marion completed a PhD on the relationship in literature of Black Americans to Africa, which introduced her to anthropology, a subject that fascinated her. Encouraged by one of Britain's leading anthropologists, Jack Goody, she decided to pursue it further. Her long-standing support for anthropology would be recognized in 2014, when she was recipient of the inaugural AAA Executive Director's award.
This was an interest she pursued upon arriving in Britain, first at the University of Cambridge, where she received an MPhil in Social Anthropology, and then with a PhD in Sociology at the University of Warwick. During her study of German-Jewish refugees in Britain, Marion was introduced to the rich German- and Austrian-Jewish publishing traditions that were continued by refugees who had escaped Nazi persecution and fled to England and America. Encouraged by one interviewee to join her publishing firm and by others to start her own, Marion, now also a mother of three young children, sought an alternative to academia – starting a scholarly press seemed just the answer to combining her intellectual interests with raising a family.
A Publishing House on the Leam
In 1980 she started a company in partnership with one of her interviewees, who had become a close friend.
As with many publishing houses before, the front room of the Berghahn family Victorian in Leamington Spa was converted into a home office (the hallway was the warehouse and the landing was the packing dept) and Berg Publishers was born. In picking the name, a shortened version of the Berghahn family name, Marion felt it had an international feel about it and was certainly easy to spell and to pronounce, unlike Berghahn ("burg-haan"). The original logo was designed by incorporating the Berghahn family crest (derived from Birkhahn – the type of bird that was native to the part of Germany from where the Berghahn family had originated generations ago).
Marion, having no experience in office management, let alone publishing, was fortunate to find guidance from her first staff members, who instituted editorial systems and book files. The first manuscripts came from a Spanish Language Teacher, who was a colleague of Marion's husband at the University of Warwick and had heard about her intention to start a publishing firm. So he offered her two readers, one in Spanish literature and one in Latin American history. They were followed by manuscripts written by leading German and French scholars, who were keen to see their book published in English. These authors were well known among specialists in their field and so attracted British authors who felt that their book would be in good company. And so, the program expanded to include English-language scholars, and the lists and subjects grew.
Learning about typesetting, printing, and distribution as she went along, Marion steadily built up the Berg office, and the publication program grew to include prominent anthropology titles as homage to her own intellectual roots, and European history, a reflection of the close advisory role of her husband Volker, himself an historian. The firm's presence was expanded to North America at first through copublication arrangements, followed by distribution agreement, with St. Martin's Press, at that time the academic publishing arm of Macmillan Publishers.
In 1988 the chance for the firm to really expand into America came when Marion's husband accepted a chair in history at Brown University and the Berghahn family moved from Leamington Spa to Providence, Rhode Island. The Berg UK presence was an important one and so an office was established in Oxford, which was to become Marion's second home from then on and has remained so to this day. The early Berg US office was set up in the basement of the Berghahn family home in Providence, but soon outgrew the space and occupied the first floor of the house (with Marion's office set up in the living room) before moving to real office space down the road.
While Marion concentrated her energies on building up the US office and its related infrastructure, the Oxford office continued to grow too with managerial staff appointed to allow Marion to focus on the burgeoning American market.
However, the strain of two offices and the challenges of keeping up with the costs of growth increased the burden and stunted the potential of the firm. At this time in the early 1990s, Britain experienced the worst recession since the 1930s, adding to further pressures. To make matters worse, the Berg UK distributor at the time went into receivership and left Berg's financial situation highly exposed.
In order to overcome these financial challenges as well as to secure a path to growth, Marion partnered with two Oxford-based individuals. However, differences developed over the direction of the firm, particularly its future as an independent company. This was the beginning of the end for Marion's future in the firm she had founded.
New Beginnings – this time with two Hs
Frankfurt Book Fair debut
Following the acrimonious split, which was devastating for Marion and those Berg staff members who had supported her through the course of her eventual dismissal, the outpouring of support from authors was incredible. One author after another implored Marion to start again – to pick up from where she had left off and to keep going and Berghahn Books was established in 1994.
Demonstrating tremendous leaps of faith, authors gladly put their names behind the new firm and manuscripts came in from across the disciplines where Berg had previously made its mark. Our former Berg US distributor not only agreed to take the firm on, but would make an early investment, and be supportive for the years to follow.
As a result, Berghahn Books could quickly showcase a rich publishing program and make good on the hard-won reputation that Marion had achieved during her earlier years.
Publishing just 8 books in 1994, the list grew to 18 books in 1995 and had reached 58 books by 2000. To date we publish around 125 new titles and 60 paperback editions a year. The actions of not only our authors, but also scholarly associations and institutes who came to us with series very early on, were a reminder of the precious ties between a publisher and her authors – bonds of mutual respect that remain a cornerstone of the firm today.
Having offices both in the US and the UK remained an important strategy for Marion in building up Berghahn Books. This time the head office was established in the US; however, a UK office remained a vital link to important relationships that had been re-established with departments across Oxford as well as Cambridge.
Furthermore, partnerships with Institutes and academic associations across Europe, such as the European Association of Social Anthropologists and the Rachel Carson Institute, were all best served by a more local team, and so a new Oxford office was also established, and Marion continued her transatlantic commute.
Marion's eldest son, Sascha, embarking on a career in website development, learned HTML and launched the Berghahn Books website in 1998. Now settled in South America, he continues to oversee its on-going development to this day as the firm's IT Director.
East River HQ
In 1998, Berghahn Books moved its headquarters to New York City. The Oxford office had benefited from being located in an intellectual and publishing hub, something Providence, despite being home to an Ivy League university, could not always offer. After a brief stint downtown, the New York office moved to a modest basement near Columbia University.
Having outgrown that space and in search of sunlight, a new office location was found in a postwar building at 150 Broadway in lower Manhattan before settling across the river in DUMBO, Brooklyn, where we remain today. We love it when authors come to visit either office, so make sure you look us up next time you're in town!
The Next Generation
All three Berghahn children grew up alongside both firms, stickering catalogs or doing database entry or other odd jobs as befits a family enterprise. The youngest would in the end opt for a different professional career path, but the other two would later return to the firm.
In addition to Sascha's continuing involvement with the firm, Marion's daughter, Vivian, joined the firm in 2001. Having graduated from university in 1998 with a lifelong wish to one day join the family firm, Vivian chose to first establish her own path in publishing. Soon after graduation she landed her first job as an editorial/production assistant at Northeastern University Press, where she was introduced to the world of American university press book publishing.
She then moved to Blackwell Publishing, which was an invaluably formative time and her introduction to journals publishing. However, it soon became apparent that it was time to move from Boston to New York City, where Berghahn Books was now based, and join the firm, which was growing rapidly. At the same time she chose to embark on her own intellectual journey into anthropology and was admitted to the Anthropology PhD program at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
Alongside her graduate work, at the firm Vivian assumed the role of overseeing the development of the journals division, including working with Sascha on implementing the journal program's move to online, first hosted internally before moving to external partners. With a current portfolio of nearly 40 journals, the online platform underwent a redesign together with functionality upgrades in April 2019.
With Marion in charge of the books program and Vivian in charge of the journals, Vivian has also since assumed the role of Managing Director for the company at large with managerial responsibilities that include advancing the company's online initiatives and the strategic development of its overall publishing program. Work and motherhood responsibilities being what they are, she expects to finally complete her PhD in
2018, 2019, 2020.
Key Developments along the Way
Recognizing the potential of diverse ebook distribution channels in the face of an overwhelmingly consolidated print market, Berghahn was an enthusiastic early adopter of ebook platform partnerships. With an eye to our core library markets, the firm secured a wide network of ebook distribution outlets and to this day appreciates the collaborative and attentive approach our partners take in working with us on evolving our access models, ensuring maximum availability, and enhancing our discoverability.
In 2018 we were pleased to launch the Berghahn eBooks Library on our own website as a means of delivering e-paperback editions of our titles to our individual customers. Researchers and students can now purchase more affordably paperback-priced ebooks for their own private use. This has allowed us to remove the pricing barrier of our hardback print library-priced books in addition to providing the convenience of an ebook edition for our ever-mobile readers.
Other direct Berghahn Online initiatives include a nationwide multi-year license with the Specialised Information Services Programme (FID) funded by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – German Research Society) for Social and Cultural Anthropology, which enables select German-based researchers access to a large Berghahn anthropology ebook collection and select journals through the Humboldt University gateway.
Stay tuned for plans that are in the works with our technology partners at PubFactory for an online platform that integrates books and journals!
Open Access Books
As a publisher whose mission is to advance scholarship and disseminate knowledge we are supportive of open access aims. In practice, there are very real expenses and labor (even on modest budgets, such as ours) that go into publishing that need a more sustainable approach – what is free still has costs. In particular, given the lack of funding in the social sciences and humanities and the inequities in how those sparse funds are allocated, we advocate for funding models that don't place the financial burden solely on the author. Therefore, although we provide gold open access options in order to uphold publication mandates instituted by our authors' funders, we are enthusiastic about more equitable initiatives, such as Knowledge Unlatched, which provide collective funding opportunities for librarianselected titles.
In 2016 we were delighted to release our first open access titles as part of the Knowledge Unlatched Select collection with other open access titles enabled by institutional funding. You can find a full listing of our open access book titles here.
Open Access Journals
Our appeal for open access funding to move away from author-centric economic models also informs strategies currently underway in our journals program. To this end, we converted Anthropology in Action to open access in 2018 through the Knowledge Unlatched journals program.
Recently, we have joined the Libraria initiative and are looking forward to a pilot that features select titles from our anthropology journals collection as part of an ambitious Open Access for Anthropology project. Exciting times!
By 2012, the publishing portfolio of Berghahn Books had successfully expanded beyond print books to include a respectable list of journals. Furthermore, the online advancements of the firm mentioned above added a further dimension and its ebook channels began to flourish. With it, time for fresh look and a new logo – an embrace of an ever diverse and evolving Berghahn publishing program.
Formation of our non-Executive Board
Sometimes an entrepreneurial spirit needs a little reality check, or simply a dash of discipline and focus!
In our case this took the form of a collective of trusted colleagues for whom we have great respect having been acquainted with them over the years. In 2016, we formed our non-executive board to advise and guide us on performance, strategy, and goals. Our meetings offer us the opportunity to report on (and make the time to reflect on) the highs (in fact, they remind us to celebrate those!), contemplate the lows, ask the questions we might otherwise dodge, and set the best course ahead for that moment in time. We are immensely appreciative of their time, support, and counsel.
Creation of our Executive Committee
our long-time International Sales Manager
Over the years, we have benefited from numerous informal discussions and debates and perspectives from members of our team. These insights have played an invaluable role in reorienting, rethinking, or restating who we are, what we do, and how we do it. When a company grows, letting go and delegating is often one of the biggest challenges for those heading up a firm, especially a family firm where it is all so personal. But indeed, at some point, you cannot (nor should) do everything, and recognizing when members of your team can not only help, but contribute in vital ways, is important throughout a company's evolution. Further to our ongoing efforts to enhance the decision-making roles of non-family members, in 2019 Berghahn created an Executive Committee and was delighted to appoint Melissa Gannon, Publishing Operations Director, and Leigh Waite, Sales and Marketing Director to expand the firm's governance apparatus. While continuing to encourage and action input from all members of staff at every level, this new structure further extends the strategy and decision-making processes at a more macro level to maximize the participation of everyone.
The next 25 years!
Thank you for joining us on this trip down memory lane. Along the way, we have been championed by an array of invaluable partners from a spectrum of associations, institutes, and organizations across our core disciplines. Alongside those partnerships, in the next section we present a selection of titles, representing the larger author body, that played a vital role in the foundation of Berghahn Books and our on-going success today. We are indebted to the on-going support and appreciation that our authors have shown us over the years – and continue to do so – as we do our best to enable the publication and dissemination of their important works to the fullest.
Behind the scenes, we would never be able to do the publishing that we do without the hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm of the staff at Berghahn Books – both past and present. The publishing climate in which we operate is challenging enough, to do so without the luxury of external coffers or the reassurances of institutional support adds additional strains and sets a high bar for success. Furthermore, to be a startup brings one set of challenges, but to mature as a company, one needs to periodically realign, shift, diversify, and streamline roles to accommodate growth, which brings on a whole new set of trials and tribulations not only for the founders but for all in the firm. Every member of our firm – no matter how junior or senior their role – has contributed to our mission and helped us grow and learn and be better, especially when learning from our mistakes. For those who have since moved on, thank you for all that you did during your time with us, each of you will have made a mark. For those who are still with us, thank you for all that you do each day to support our authors in realizing the publication of their important works.
We are proud of each title and every series that we have published over the past 25 years. Click here to see a small selection of some highlights that have marked our journey to today, especially in the early years.
Onwards and upwards - here's to the next 25 years!
aboard a tall ship in New York Harbor