MUP was founded in 1903, the note in the University’s Calendar reporting a Publications Committee would be created to ‘disseminate knowledge’. Primarily it was created as an outlet to publish academic research being carried out within the Victoria University of Manchester. It’s first three books were published in the academic year 1904–5, and included James Tait’s Mediaeval Manchester and the Beginnings of Lancashire and Sydney J. Chapman’s The Lancashire Cotton Industry: A Study in Economic Development. They were printed by the Manchester booksellers and publishers, Sherratt & Hughes.
Apart from continuing to publish works of history over the following years, the Press also published medical textbooks, published lectures, produced facsimiles held within the John Rylands Library, became publisher for the Chetham Society and entered into a distribution agreement with the firm Longmans, Green and Company in the United States, which proved to be very successful. By the time that the first chairman of the Press, T. F. Tout died in 1925, over 250 volumes with the Manchester University Press imprint had been published.
The Press expanded over the following decades, and moved into the areas of literary criticism and literary texts, social anthropology, social history and the social and political sciences. In 1953 the press published seventeen new books and eight new editions; by 1968 the figures were thirty-eight new books and twenty-eight reprints. In this period Robert Roberts published The Classic Slum (still in print today), following it up with the equally successful A Ragged Schooling: Growing Up in the Classic Slum (1978). The Revels Plays were acquired from Methuen in 1976, and there are nearly fifty volumes in the series still in print, with more being added each year. The Studies in Imperialism series was also inaugurated by John M Mackezie and now has over one hundred volumes in print.
Given the changes in academia and in publishing in the last two decades, MUP has continued to adapt and grow. It now publishes 175 new books a year, and its backlist is largely kept in print using POD (print on demand) and electronic editions. It was part of part of the European OAPEN project to investigate Open Access publishing, and was an early adopter of supplying electronic editions alongside the tradition hard and paperback volumes. It continues to publish in the area of history and literature, and the political sciences, but also has lists in economics, political economy, ethnography, international law, film and television studies, archaeology, art history and theatre studies.