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The Art of Collaboration

To help celebrate University Press Week, the University of Virginia Press is proud to take part in a blog tour that will also include posts from the University Press of Colorado, the University of Georgia Press, Duke University Press, the University of California Press, McGill-Queen's University PressTexas A&M Press, Project MUSE, Yale University Press, and the University of Chicago Press.

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When a theme of University Press Week turned out to be “collaboration,” we naturally thought of Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, a publication that originated in the research done at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and would go on to involve not only the print side of the UVa Press but its electronic imprint, Rotunda.

Among the many programs at the Miller Center, perhaps the best known is its Presidential Recordings Program. Its epic task is to transcribe the nearly 5,000 hours of recordings made by American presidents, beginning with a handful of tapes by FDR. This is an enormously valuable contribution to presidential history. In 2011, the Miller Center collaborated with Rotunda on The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson Digital Edition, an online collection of Johnson’s tapes, many of which had never before been released to the public. This archive went on to win the PROSE Award for eResources in the Humanities.

From the beginning, the intention was to expand on the Johnson recordings in Rotunda by bringing in additional presidents such as Nixon, but the approach of Watergate’s 40th anniversary put the process on the fast track. The looming anniversary also presented an opportunity for the print side of the Press. In listening to the Nixon tapes, Miller Center researcher Ken Hughes had uncovered a pattern of covert activity beginning long before Watergate, stretching all the way back to Nixon’s presidential campaign of 1968. It was decided that Hughes would author a book on his findings; the material could be the basis for a powerful ebook and, at the same time, help expand Rotunda’s already-existing digital edition of the presidential recordings. This was in 2013. Watergate’s August 2014 anniversary would impose on the project a non-negotiable deadline.

Over the next several months, Ken worked, as they say, furiously. When the manuscript began to arrive, the Press’s editors worked fairly furiously themselves to create a book that met its strict deadline while keeping the highest editorial and scholarly standards. Staff at Rotunda set to work creating an ebook edition that linked to complete transcriptions and audio files of the conversations referenced in the book. These contents would also be available on a dedicated web site,, and would become the cornerstone of the expanded Presidential Recordings Digital Edition.

Just in time for the Watergate anniversary, we published the finished book. We were rewarded for all our hard work by a whirlwind round of publicity that included excerpts of the book on Salon and ABC News, more interviews with Ken than we can count, positive reviews in the Washington Post, Kirkus, and the Atlantic, and a special event at the Washington Post offices in which Ken joined Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to reflect on the famous break-in and the historic downfall of the president.

Marc Selvertsone, Chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, on the conception of the project and the teamwork that followed: "(UVa Press director) Mark Saunders and I had been talking about doing projects like this for awhile, and we thought it'd be a great way to leverage the Presidential Recording Program's expertise in transcribing, annotating, and interpreting the recordings, and the Press's ability to present and offer access to that material in novel and engaging ways. We worked under incredibly tight deadlines, but everyone involved in the project recognized, I'm pretty sure, how valuable these kinds of publications could be and how exciting it would be to pull it off, particularly in time to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation. And I think the reason we were so successful is that our core relationship was so strong, we had real faith in each other, that we could all pull together to make it happen. It was pretty special, I think."

Chasing Shadows author Ken Hughes: "I marveled at the way Mark Saunders and Marc Selverstone managed to overcome all the organizational challenges of coordinating separate institutions and media into a seamless whole. Not only were the Press and the Miller Center able to pull off the feat of producing a book in just a few months time, together we were able to help readers delve deeper into the book's subject by seamlessly accessing the White House tapes and transcripts at the touch of a fingertip. Many people worked behind the scenes at both institutions to make it all work for the reader simply and intuitively. For an author, it was great to be able to give readers the opportunity to move instantly from reading history to experiencing history. It was a chance to share the best part of studying Nixon and Watergate."

Chasing Shadows was originally going to cover a longer period of history, taking the reader into Nixon’s second term. As the manuscript grew, however, it was decided it would be split up into two books. And so, in spring 2015, with the fall of Saigon approaching its 40th anniversary, we will bring out Ken’s follow-up book, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection. Telling a story that, if anything, is even more explosive than the one in Chasing Shadows, Fatal Politics reveals how Nixon postponed the the inevitable end of American involvement in the Vietnam War until he had achieved reelection in 1972. Like Chasing Shadows, this sequel is the result of an examination of the secret White House tapes that is unprecedented in its depth. Also like its predecessor, Fatal Politics will be released as both a print book and as a special ebook with links to the recorded conversations’ full transcriptions and audio files.

Just a few short weeks ago, Ken emailed several of us at the Press and at the Miller Center to announce the Fatal Politics manuscript was done. And so we begin again...

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