If all the books in the world, except the Philosophical Transactions, were destroyed, it is safe to say that the foundations of physical science would remain unshaken, and that the vast intellectual progress of the last two centuries would be largely, though incompletely, recorded.1
Thus, Thomas Henry Huxley, in a lay sermon on intellectual progress delivered in January 1866, proclaimed one of the central roles of the scientific periodical: as a record of the progress of the sciences. By Huxley's time, Philosophical Transactions, published by the Royal Society of London, was just one of many scientific journals issued by learned societies and commercial publishers.2 The Royal Society's project to create a Catalogue of Scientific Papers had just finished indexing almost 1400 such journals from all over the world.3 What made Philosophical Transactions unique, as Huxley knew, was its longevity. Other journals enabled more rapid publication, and other journals contained more specialist research, but no other journal had a back-run that could compare to Transactions. And since Transactions is still with us today, the length of its back-run remains unique: 350 years and still counting.
Over those 350 years, scientific periodicals have performed many roles. As well as storing records of research for the future, they have enabled geographically dispersed scholars to communicate, and sometimes to coordinate, their research. They have helped to establish and police knowledge communities. They have served as currency in exchanges that built and maintained relationships between learned societies, and between individual researchers. They have always been part of an interlocking web of oral, manuscript and printed (and, recently, digital) forms through which knowledge and knowledge claims have been transmitted and translated between cultural, linguistic and disciplinary contexts. But, amid that array of communication tools, periodicals have come to be the dominant means by which scientists (or, increasingly, teams of scientists) gain credit for discoveries and build their reputations and careers. The editorial processes for selecting and evaluating papers for publication have become increasingly complex as the social stakes of publication have increased, and, with the professionalization of other fields of academic endeavour over the last century, the practices of science journals and their editors have informed the standards for scholarly publishing in non-scientific fields.
The research printed in scientific periodicals has long been mined by historians of science, but communication practices have received more attention since the rise of constructivist accounts of natural knowledge in the 1970s.4 Historians and sociologists of science have investigated the processes, both formal and informal, through which experimentally based knowledge was disseminated, and thus transformed into publicly acknowledged facts. The first scholarly journals (Journal des Sçavans and Philosophical Transactions, in 1665) are now well-established elements, alongside scientific societies and academies, of the history of early modern science, and the names of scientific periodicals (and some of their editors) have become familiar bit-players in histories of late modern science, and were studied in their own right by A. J. Meadows and W. H. Brock.5
Since the 1990s our understanding of both the language and the publishing of science has been transformed. The emergence (by the late nineteenth century) of an apparent objectivity in scientific writing, through increasingly impersonal reporting, and a standardization of the structure and material layout of articles, has been identified by scholars undertaking a sociolinguistic analysis of a corpus of published articles.6 Meanwhile, the work of James Secord, Adrian Johns and Jonathon Topham, among others, has transformed our understanding of the authorship, readership and publishing of science.7 However, this understanding is still limited: for the early modern period we usually know more about the foundation of journals than about their subsequent working lives,8 and for the late modern period we know far more about communication to educated and lay publics than about communications between scholars.9 It could be said that we are now rich in snapshots of the history of scientific periodicals—we have studies of specific editors, and specific journals, at particular points in time—but, except for the rhetoric of scientific articles, we lack the big picture.10
Few, if any, of the attributes and functions now associated with scientific periodicals are straightforwardly transhistorical. Studying the emergence of a (relatively) stable and standardized form of scientific communication thus offers a means of tracking change in scientific communication practices over time, investigating how, when, and where those changes came about, whether they proved lasting, who benefited from them, and what alternatives existed. The answers reveal shifts in epistemic standards and priorities, in patterns of specialization and discipline formation, in the influence of and relations between learned societies, and in the power relations between different communities of practitioners and researchers.
Publishing Philosophical Transactions
The papers in this special issue of Notes & Records are a small selection of the 36 papers presented at a conference held at the Royal Society on 19–21 March 2015, under the title ‘Publish or perish? The past, present and future of the scientific periodical’.11 The conference (nearly) coincided with the 350th anniversary of Philosophical Transactions and was organized under the auspices of our project ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the social, cultural and economic history of a learned journal, 1665–2015’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.12 Launched in 2013, our project seeks to provide a comprehensive study of the oldest continuously published scientific periodical. Philosophical Transactions is not merely Huxley's symbol of intellectual progress: it supplies a near-continuous thread that spans the entire history of periodical publishing in the sciences, and so can act simultaneously as a case study and the core of a longue-durée analysis. It began as a private commercial venture but became an official learned society publication. It has at different times been paid for by members of the print trade, by private editors, by the Royal Society, and indirectly by the Treasury. It has changed publishers and printers a dozen times. Because of its comprehensive archive, held in the Royal Society's library, it affords unique historical insights into editorial practices in science publishing (through the many correspondences and diaries of editors), the finances of scholarly publishing (through the Society's account books, and the archives of printers William Bowyer and Taylor & Francis), executive direction (through the Society's Council minutes), and the dissemination of scientific research, not only through the distribution practices of Transactions itself but also through its replication into many other forms (other specialist periodicals, in Britain and on the Continent (mainland Europe), but also abstracts, abridgements, and the general periodical press).13
The ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions’ project is grounded in the history of the print trades, and will provide an account of learned periodical publication that embraces the full range of its cultural complexity: a production history, certainly, but one that engages fully with the variety and materiality of periodical production and its afterlives, with shifting conceptions and patterns of authorship, with changes in the nature of scientific organization in Britain and elsewhere, with patterns of public engagement, willing or otherwise, with different editorial regimes and new epistemic standards and priorities for science, with the rise of commercial journals and the proliferation of learned society publishing in the nineteenth century, and with Big Science, state oversight and internationalism in the twentieth century.
The project will run to 2017, by which time its chronological scope will extend to the present, when the dominant position of current publishing models in the sciences outlined above is coming under increasing internal and external strain. The competing claims of publishers, researchers and the public, coupled with the rise of online circulation, open-access publishing, and preprint servers, are pointing to new (or not so new!) possibilities for information sharing and knowledge accreditation, and new economic norms that threaten the stability of traditional forms. The cultural, epistemic, social and economic position of the scientific journal is being called urgently into question, and we believe that the historical variety and contestation underlying the present situation can contribute to those debates.
Before introducing the contents of this issue, which showcase the variety of fruitful themes currently being investigated, we wish to take this opportunity to present a foretaste of the findings (so far) of our project. The story starts, of course, with Henry Oldenburg; yet, despite his prominence in the historiography of Philosophical Transactions, he was its editor for only 12 of the 350 years.
Editing the early Transactions
Philosophical Transactions: Giving some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World began life as the personal venture of the Royal Society's industrious first Secretary, Henry Oldenburg. In the summer of 1664, Oldenburg had an idea for a new money-making scheme. He told Robert Boyle that he proposed to start a subscription service; a (manuscript) letter of ‘weekly intelligence, both of state and literary news,’ for which he hoped Boyle would be able to suggest willing subscribers.14 Shortly thereafter news came from Paris of the launch of Journal des Sçavans, a printed weekly containing reviews of books on theology, history, medicine, and natural philosophy. Oldenburg had been invited to supply the Journal's editor with accounts of new books and other goings-on in the world of English learning; and he brought a copy of an early issue into a meeting of the Society, along with what was described as ‘a sample’ of a similar project, ‘but much more philosophical in nature’.15 This was a draft, or perhaps a proof copy, of the first issue of Philosophical Transactions, which appeared in print on 6 March 1665.
Transactions under Oldenburg looked very different from a modern science journal, and also from the formal learned society publication it would become in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There was no formal submission process, and Oldenburg was the publisher, compiler, and even—as he occasionally called himself—the author.16 The contents consisted of adapted bits of Oldenburg's correspondence, accounts of books that had come his way (at first or second hand), and reports of experiments performed in the Royal Society and elsewhere.17 The early Transactions relied on Oldenburg's prodigious network of natural-philosophical contacts, and his considerable skills as a linguist.
Although Transactions was licensed by the Royal Society, and the first issues were printed by the Society's official printers, John Martyn and James Allestree,18 the Society had no involvement in the commercial aspects of the project. Oldenburg thought the publication would break even if he sold 300 copies,19 and in mid 1665 the print run for commercial sale was negotiated at 1000 copies (more than in the eighteenth century, and the same as in the nineteenth century!).20 Oldenburg never did succeed in gaining his living from Transactions—the most it had ever done, he noted in 1667, was to cover the rent on his house in Piccadilly21—but it soon became an entrenched part of the European Republic of Letters and, by the time of his death, it had no direct rival, European or English.
Oldenburg's death, in 1677, could easily have been the end of Transactions. Yet, by the end of Newton's presidency, in 1727, Transactions had reached its 34th volume and had passed (although not always smoothly) through the hands of nine different editors, most notably Edmond Halley, Hans Sloane and James Jurin. Transactions had continued to be the financial responsibility of the successive Secretary-editors, but fortunately, there was no shortage of wealthy Fellows at the Society. Hans Sloane spent £1500 on producing Transactions in the course of 20 years—hardly a small sum, but one he could easily cover with his extensive wealth.22 One of the fascinating aspects of our project has been untangling how Transactions was handed on from one Secretary of the Royal Society to another, despite the Society's formal distance from the publication, and how the Society contrived to exercise de facto intellectual ownership over it, despite having no commercial or legal claim.
Becoming an institutional publication
Changes of editorial regime created opportunities for individual editors and for the institution to set new directions for Transactions, and to broaden the scope of natural-philosophical publishing at the Society. There were several such attempts in the late 1670s and 1680s. However, these mainly depended on the securing of a substantial body of research to which the Society could stake some claim of ownership, and they were predicated on attempts to revitalize the Society's flagging experimental programme. When by the early 1690s these proved to be unsustainable, the activity of weekly meetings began to consist primarily of hearing individual research communications, which in turn increasingly dominated the content of Transactions.
Around 1751, Philosophical Transactions was experiencing something of a crisis, with the Society as a whole feeling peculiarly vulnerable around this time. Expenditure had regularly begun to exceed income in the late 1730s; the President, Martin Folkes, was too ill to have much to do with the Society any more, the Secretary, Cromwell Mortimer, had fallen two years behind in the publication of Transactions, and the journal itself had come under biting satirical attack by John Hill, an actor, apothecary, and naturalist who had been bitterly disappointed in his hopes of being elected to the Fellowship, and who took his revenge by publishing three works in two years ridiculing the Society and Transactions. The Society was travestied as a noisy, undignified, backbiting, nepotistic vision of bedlam, the unfortunate Folkes as an idle, drooling epicure and a liar in his personal affairs, and Transactions as a catalogue of futility, error and triviality.23
The Society was quick to point out that it was not officially responsible for Transactions. But Hill's attacks gained force from the fact that Transactions and the Society were inextricably linked in the minds of most contemporary readers.24 As Noah Moxham shows elsewhere in this issue, the Society's institutional affiliation with Transactions was not straightforward in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. The Society had ensured that Transactions was continued in a (mostly) timely manner; it appointed the editors; and, in contrast with the reviews, reports and extracts from letters that Oldenburg had published, most of the papers that appeared in Transactions in the early eighteenth century had been read before the Society at its weekly meetings. There was a widespread assumption that Transactions came out with the Society's approval and under its supervision, and the Society had often benefited from reflected glory.
Very soon after the appearance of Hill's satires, a knot of senior Fellows, led by Lord Charles Cavendish and the Earl of Macclesfield, George Parker, moved to have Transactions formally taken over by the Society. In the spring of 1752, the Council agreed that Transactions should henceforth be published ‘for the sole use and benefit of this Society’, and that the ‘great Charge and Expence’ incurred would now be ‘defrayed out of the Stock or Fund of the Society’.25 The move was predominantly about securing the honour, credit and reputation of the Society, but, by shifting the ownership of Transactions (in a physical ink-and-paper sense, as well as intellectually) to the Society, it provided the Society with greater opportunities to use copies of Transactions as perquisites for members and as gifts to correspondents and learned institutions. As Aileen Fyfe shows elsewhere in this issue, it thus marks the start of the Society's extensive programme of institutional exchanges and free circulation. In clear contrast with the earlier editorial regime, the post-1752 Transactions was to be edited by a standing Committee of Papers (in practice the Society's governing Council), who would use a secret ballot to generate a collective decision, thus avoiding any imputation that Committee members might have been bribed or coerced.
Collective editorial practices in the Banks era
Although the Society had taken on Transactions, the business of negotiating with printers and booksellers remained the preserve of one of the Secretaries; however, now the bills for paper, engraving and printing were paid by the Society, and editorial control was exercised through regular meetings of the Committee of Papers. The emphasis on collective (or corporate) editorial responsibility distinguished the post-1752 Transactions both from its predecessor and from periodicals controlled by an individual editor. The breadth of membership of the Committee made some provision for a breadth of scholarly interests, but the Statutes also enabled a designated ordinary member of the Society to be invited to Committee meetings to provide expert evaluation of particular papers. In the eighteenth century this provision for the reviewing of papers was seldom used in practice—only four times for more than 400 papers considered by the Committee of Papers between 1780 and 1790.26
The contents of Transactions were now firmly linked to Society meetings. Any paper read before the Society was automatically considered by the Committee. Only Fellows could read papers, but they could do so on behalf of others.27 The Society's series of ‘Archived Papers’ (that is, papers rejected for publication) contain a strikingly high proportion of foreign papers in this period. The proliferation of learned societies across Europe, with publications of their own, meant that the Royal Society's Transactions was no longer unique.28 Scholars on the Continent frequently preferred to publish more locally, and the Royal Society was not interested in the proposals for longitude solutions, perpetual motion machines and squaring the circle that did come in.
Once the decision to print had been taken, the paper appeared in the volume for that year—the practice of publishing monthly or quarterly issues had by this time been discontinued and had to all intents and purposes ceased well before the Society assumed control. It would feature the author's name, the name of the Fellow who had communicated the paper to the Society, and the date on which it was read. About half of the print run was reserved for Fellows, who were expected to sign for their copies in person. With so many copies distributed free to the journal's natural market, sales were generally slow; as Fyfe demonstrates in her paper, the Society had to support Transactions financially. That its Fellows did so, willingly, indicates the non-financial ‘benefit’ that Transactions was perceived to bring to the Society.
The Statutes laid down that the Committee should vote on each paper read before the Society in silence and without discussion. Without being a fly on the wall in the Committee's meetings, it is impossible to know how closely these instructions were followed, but there is plenty of evidence that the President and Secretaries could, and did, bypass or subvert the official editorial procedures. For instance, as President from 1778 to 1820, Joseph Banks exerted a strong personal influence on all areas of the Society's business. The work of the Committee of Papers continued fairly efficiently, with the President himself in frequent attendance; at the same time, however, Banks or one of the Secretaries could prevent papers from ever reaching the Committee by not allowing them to be read at a meeting in the first place. There was also a strong process of informal evaluation, with papers often passed around the social gatherings that Banks frequented for comment and criticism before they were brought into the Society or considered for publication.29 There is also evidence of editorial interventions, with Banks himself, or a trusted deputy, proposing cuts or emendations to particular contributions. The proofs (like those on the cover of this issue) were sometimes corrected at Banks's home.30 Despite this apparent subversion of collective editing, a paper in Transactions carried a high degree of prestige.
Transactions in the age of professionalization
Since the death of Banks, both the Royal Society and the organization of science have been transformed. In the late 1820s a group of reformers, including Charles Babbage, proposed that the Society should select only men of scientific attainments, as measured by their publications. And if publication was to become a measure of reputation, then it would be equally critical that the processes for the evaluation of papers for publication should be improved, perhaps by the use of referees. These proposals were quietly shelved, but many of their recommendations were implemented over the next 20 years, culminating with the Royal Society Statute reforms of 1847.31
As the nineteenth century wore on, the increased desire to publish articles was reflected in the increased bulk of the volumes of Philosophical Transactions; its split into A (physical) and B (biological) series in 1887; the launch of Abstracts of the papers communicated to the Royal Society of London in 1832 and its transformation into Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 1854; and, much more recently, the launch of five new Royal Society journals. Printed papers were, however, the tip of the iceberg. The number of submissions to the Royal Society in the second half of the nineteenth century grew faster than the number of papers printed.32 In the nineteenth century there was a qualitative distinction between Transactions and Proceedings, with only those articles marking ‘a distinct step in the advancement of Natural Knowledge’ being admitted to Transactions.33 From 1914 the distinction would depend purely on length and quantity of illustrations: papers more than 24 pages long, and those requiring ‘numerous elaborate illustrations’ would be considered for Transactions.34 Despite the rise in specialist journals—especially after World War II—neither Transactions nor Proceedings split beyond A and B, retaining a commitment to the broad scope of ‘physical’ or ‘biological’ sciences.35 With the increasing prominence of Proceedings, the role of Transactions became less clear until, in the 1990s, the Society decided to transform it into a series of thematic issues arising from Society-hosted Discussion Meetings. There are now about fifty of these issues published every year.
By the late nineteenth century the Royal Society had become involved in a wider range of activities: in addition to its weekly meetings and its publications, it administered virtually all of the government funds for scientific research. During the twentieth century it shifted towards the provision of independent policy advice, international scientific diplomacy, some direct funding of research, and liaising with other scientific societies.36 This meant that although Transactions remained an important public expression of the Society's reputation, it was a much smaller part of the Society's activities than it had once been. The Society's growing international outlook, however, was reflected in Transactions. In 1974, 69% of Royal Society authors were still from the UK, but by 2006 the proportion of non-UK authors had passed 70%.37 During the remaining years of our project, we hope to be able to shed light on how this internationalization of Transactions was enabled, and what its implications were for the running of the journal.
The business of publishing
In Oldenburg's day, periodicals had been typeset by hand, printed on hand-presses on hand-made paper, and folded and stitched by hand. During the nineteenth century all of these processes were mechanized, and the unit costs of paper, printing and, eventually, typesetting fell.38 During the same period, the reproduction of images was transformed by innovations, from lithography to photography.39 The Royal Society's records yield good data, which will ultimately become part of the online resource produced by our project, on production costs (paper, printing and illustrations) from the mid eighteenth century onwards, and on sales income (but not sales numbers) from the mid nineteenth century onwards. However, as Fyfe argues, it is misleading to think about Transactions before the mid twentieth century as though it were a commercial enterprise. The Society supported the publication and circulation of scientific knowledge and did not expect to recoup much of the cost from sales. More attention was paid in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to print quality than to controlling costs.
By the 1890s this philanthropic approach to publishing was coming under strain at the Royal Society, as the publishing programme became more expensive and as the Society's range of other activities grew. For several decades the publishing programme was assisted by government grants-in-aid and by private donations. In the 1920s there was a conscious cutting-back of the free circulation of Transactions (and Proceedings), and a price increase for Proceedings,40 which helped to increase sales income somewhat. But it was not until the late 1940s that Transactions—and Society publishing more generally—began occasionally to show a surplus. From the late 1950s, vastly increased sales income, and regular surpluses, suggest a transformation of the Society's commercial activities that we have yet to investigate.41 The story will include the Society's decision in the mid 1950s to remove the marketing and distribution aspects of publishing from the printers (then Cambridge University Press) and develop an in-house publishing division.
The Royal Society's publishing division has managed to participate in the growing profitability of science journals in the second half of the twentieth century, and publishing has become a very successful income generation stream for the Society. In 2014 the publishing division reported a surplus of £2.6 million, amounting to just over one-fifth of the total unrestricted income of the Royal Society.42 From a model based on the free circulation of scientific research, supported by the Society, Transactions had moved to a model funded by subscriptions. However, the Society has retained its philanthropic commitment to the dissemination of research, significantly aided by the ease with which the online edition can now be made accessible to readers and institutions all over the world.
Refereeing and expert evaluation
The Royal Society archives are a rich resource for the history of the editorial processes of journal publishing. There are minute books for the various committees with editorial responsibilities, principally the Committee of Papers (1752–1990), the several discipline-based Sectional Committees (1838–47 and 1897–1968) and the Editorial Boards (1968–). There is also a continuous series of ledgers (the ‘Register of Papers’) recording the editorial progress and fate of every paper submitted from 1853 until computerization, the correspondence of the Secretaries who edited Transactions (and the staff who helped them), and, from 1832, an extensive collection of referees' reports.
The Committee of Papers had always had the power to seek additional expertise, but had rarely used it. From 1832 the Committee began to ‘refer’ papers to named individuals for report. Work in progress by both Alex Csiszar and Julie McDougall-Waters is investigating how this early refereeing system worked: reports were occasionally jointly written, but usually not; they were occasionally delivered orally, but usually in writing; reports ranged from a single sentence to a dozen pages; there were usually two referees, but not always; and the referees were publicly anonymous but their names were an open secret to Society insiders.43 During the second half of the nineteenth century, during the secretaryship of George Gabriel Stokes, refereeing settled into its mature form: two referees provided written reports, which were used both by the Committee of Papers in making the editorial decision and (in extract) by the authors in making pre-publication revisions.44
Analysis of a sample of the ‘Register of Papers’ reveals that an increasing proportion of the Fellowship was involved in refereeing over the second half of the nineteenth century: the size of the Fellowship was decreasing, but the number of papers in need of referees was increasing. Officers and members of Council undertook a lot of the refereeing, but the reverse was also true: regular referees who were not initially on Council tended to end up there, including T. H. Huxley and George Carey Foster. Furthermore, the fact that William Thomson was one of the most active referees of the 1860s and 1870s, despite being based in Glasgow, hints at the role that refereeing may have had in enabling distant Fellows to participate in discussions about research presented at Society meetings. Then as now, some referees were speedier than others. During the 1850s to 1870s the most likely time that an author would have to wait, from receipt of paper, through refereeing, to editorial decision, was five weeks, which stands up well to modern practice (even without the supposed advantages of electronic communication).45
Since the early eighteenth century the contents of Transactions had been closely linked to the meetings of the Society, yet the organization of those meetings had been done by the Secretaries (and sometimes the President) before, and separately from, their evaluation by the Committee of Papers for possible publication. In 1896 the processes were integrated.46 Although the final decision still rested with Council, the Committee of Papers delegated most editorial matters to ‘Sectional Committees’ that dealt with particular fields of science. These Sectional Committees were involved in deciding which papers should be accepted for a meeting (and, thus, a short mention in Proceedings), and they also chose appropriate referees for those papers worthy of ‘further consideration’ for possible publication in Transactions.47 The Sectional Committees remained in operation until 1968, when they were replaced with boards of Associate Editors for each series of Transactions. Both structures provided the Secretary-editors with advice, expertise and personal contacts stretching far beyond their individual specialisms. In 1990, for only the second time in the history of Transactions, the historic link between Secretary and editor was broken. The editors of the two series of Transactions are no longer the Secretaries, thus spreading the burden of duties more widely among the Fellowship. In addition, the long-standing Committee of Papers was abolished, leaving the Fellows serving on the Editorial Boards with the task of representing the corporate body of the Society in the management of Transactions.
Publish or perish: the past, present and future of the scientific periodical
The ‘Publish or perish?’ conference encouraged delegates to think about the format and genre of the scientific periodical, and about the business and editorial practices involved in running a journal. Unintentionally, but not unexpectedly, the nature and significance of institutional sponsorship of periodicals was an oft-repeated minor theme. It features in this issue in Noah Moxham's discussion of the Royal Society's ambiguous early relationship with Philosophical Transactions, where he shows how Transactions moved from being one of several possible publishing activities of the Society in the 1680s, to being regarded as a good representation of institutional activity by the 1710s. Aileen Fyfe discusses the later financial implications of the institutional sponsorship of Transactions, and Beth le Roux shows that the Royal Society of South Africa had many similar problems but went to enormous lengths to keep its Transactions going, despite the significant difficulties caused by the state of the local book trade and the lack of a stable local readership. In contrast, Jim Mussell and Imogen Clarke show how Oliver Lodge valued Philosophical Magazine's lack of any institutional affiliation, believing that this allowed it to function as a more open space than the various society Proceedings with which it competed.
The papers selected here urge us to remember the practicalities of journal publishing in the days of paper, ink and physically bulky printed products. Thomas Broman's fascinating account of the distribution of periodicals in the Holy Roman Empire emphasizes that profits were there to be made, by the postal service as well as by editors and publishers. His account provides an intriguing contrast to that of Fyfe, whose investigation of the Royal Society's strategies for supporting Transactions financially shows how the expansion of the scientific enterprise in the later nineteenth century put the Society's financial arrangements under strain, and eventually led it to seek government support for the publication of scientific research. Similarly, le Roux tells a story of South African journals in the twentieth century relying upon subsidies from universities and government.
Several papers touch in passing upon the format of scientific periodicals. Moxham's analysis of the experiments in publishing undertaken by those associated with the Royal Society after Oldenburg's death raises important questions about the perceived functional and epistemic distinction between periodicals and other formats. But it turns out to be by no means clear what physical format a ‘periodical’ might have, depending on place or time. In Oldenburg's day, Philosophical Transactions was issued as an unbound monthly, but was also available as a bound cumulation. In the nineteenth century, papers circulated among correspondence networks (and sometimes through the book trade) as ‘separate copies’, and bound volumes were exchanged between institutions. By the twentieth century, norms of periodicity had changed, as is apparent in the papers by Mussell and Clarke and by Melinda Baldwin, as the weekly Nature damaged the claim to rapidity of monthlies such as Philosophical Magazine and Proceedings. And le Roux reminds us, even with the spread of online editions, some readers may need print-on-demand or CD-ROM formats.
Editorial practices, ranging from those of Oldenburg himself to the development of refereeing (later, peer review) as a crucial input into editorial decision-making, were a repeated theme of the conference. Moxham reveals how Hooke's and Halley's concepts of the editorial function differed from each other, as well as from Oldenburg's. The use of referees was developed at the learned societies in the nineteenth century, but papers in this issue by Baldwin and by Mussell and Clarke reveal that, until the later twentieth century, the practice of refereeing remained firmly associated with society-sponsored publications. Mussell and Clarke's paper reveals that when the editorial standards at Philosophical Magazine were criticized in the early twentieth century, the use of referees was not yet necessarily seen to be the answer. And Baldwin takes the case of Nature, where the editor's authority, coupled with his personal connections and social relations, determined decision-making at Nature in the mid twentieth century, and systematic refereeing was not introduced until the early 1970s.
The conference also featured sessions on illustrations, both early modern and late modern, and some papers, although not enough, on the international dimensions of scientific journals, including translation of Philosophical Transactions, and the efforts of societies elsewhere in the world to establish their own publications. Some of these papers will be appearing elsewhere, or as part of forthcoming books, but we are delighted to have been able to include here a selection that illustrates the importance of thinking about the management and operation of periodicals, as well as their intellectual content. Without such sound business and editorial practices, and, in many cases, institutional support, our periodicals would, indeed, have perished.
↵1 T. H. Huxley, ‘On the advisableness of improving natural knowledge’ (1866), in Collected Essays, vol. 1, p. 23 (Macmillan, London, 1893). The address originated as a lay sermon delivered in St Martin's Hall on Sunday, 7 January 1866 and was published in Fortnightly Rev. 3, 626–637 (1866).
↵2 Because the term ‘scientific journal’ was a creation of the early nineteenth century, we have tried to use ‘periodical’ when referring either to the earlier period or to the longue durée. On the emergence of ‘journals’, see J. R. Topham, ‘Anthologizing the book of nature: the circulation of knowledge and the origins of the scientific journal in late Georgian Britain’, in The circulation of knowledge between Britain, India, and China (ed. B. Lightman and G. McOuat), pp. 119–152 (Brill, Boston, 2013), and I. Watts, ‘ “We want no authors”: William Nicholson and the contested role of the scientific journal in Britain, 1797–1813’, Br. J. Hist. Sci. 47, 397–419 (2014).
↵3 H. White (ed.), Catalogue of Scientific Papers [first series, 1800–63] (Royal Society, London, 1867–72), p. viii. See also A. J. Meadows, ‘The growth of journal literature: a historical perspective’, in The web of knowledge: a Festschrift in honor of Eugene Garfield (ed. B. Cronin and H. B. Atkins), pp. 87–107 (Information Today Inc., Medford, NJ, 2000).
↵4 However, David Kronick, with a background in library science, began his important series of books and articles on seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century scientific journals in the 1960s. In particular, see D. A. Kronick, A history of scientific and technical periodicals: the origins and development of the scientific and technical press, 1665–1790 (Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, NJ, 1976); see also idem, ‘Scientific journal publication in the eighteenth century’, Pap. Bibliogr. Soc. Am. 59, 28–44 (1965), idem, ‘Authorship and authority in the scientific periodicals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, Library Q. 48, 225–275 (1978), idem, ‘Anonymity and identity: editorial policy in the early scientific journal’, Library Q. 58, 221–237 (1988), and idem, ‘Peer review in 18th-century scientific journalism’, J. Am. Med. Assoc. 263, 1321–1322 (1990).
↵5 A. J. Meadows (ed.), The development of science publishing in Europe (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1980), which includes an essay (pp. 95–122) by W. H. Brock on ‘The development of commercial science journals in Victorian Britain’; W. H. Brock, ‘Brewster as scientific journalist’, in ‘Martyr of Science’: Sir David Brewster, 1781–1863 (ed. A. Morison-Low and J. R. R. Christie ), pp. 37–44 (Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1984); idem, ‘Patronage and publishing: journals of microscopy 1839–1989’, J. Microsc. 155, 249–266 (1989).
↵6 A. Gross, J. Harmon and M. Reidy. Communicating science: the scientific article from the 17th century to the present (Oxford University Press, 2002); Dwight Atkinson, Scientific discourse in sociohistorical context: the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1675–1975 (Laurence Erlbaum Associates, London, 1999).
↵7 A. Johns, The nature of the book: print and knowledge in the making (University of Chicago Press, 1998); J. A. Secord, Victorian sensation: the extraordinary publication, reception and secret authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (University of Chicago Press, 2000); J. R. Topham, ‘Scientific publishing and the reading of science in early nineteenth-century Britain: an historiographical survey and guide to sources’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 31A, 559–612 (2000).
↵8 Our understanding of eighteenth-century learned journals has recently been enhanced significantly by the many Continental case studies collected in J. Peiffer, M. Conforti, and P. Delpiano (eds), Les journaux savants dans l'Europe des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles/ Communication et construction des savoirs/Scholarly Journals in Early Modern Europe. Communication and the construction of knowledge, special issue of Arch. Int. Hist. Sci. 63 (Brepols, Turnhout, 2013).
↵9 G. Cantor et al. (eds), Science in the nineteenth-century periodical: reading the magazine of nature (Cambridge University Press, 2004); L. Henson et al. (eds), Culture and science in the nineteenth-century media (Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, 2004); G. Cantor and S. Shuttleworth, Science serialized: representations of the sciences in nineteenth-century periodicals (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004); A. Fyfe, Science and salvation: evangelicals and popular science publishing in Victorian Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2004); A. Fyfe and B. Lightman (eds), Science in the marketplace: nineteenth-century sites and experiences (University of Chicago Press, 2007); B. Lightman, Victorian popularizers of science: designing nature for new audiences (University of Chicago Press, 2007). This focus on the popular will be to some extent redressed by new work, such as M. Baldwin, Making Nature: the history of a scientific journal (University of Chicago Press, 2015), and A. Csiszar, The rise of the scientific journal in nineteenth-century France and Britain (University of Chicago Press, in preparation).
↵10 J. A. Secord, ‘Introduction: the big picture’, Br. J. Hist. Sci. 26, 387–389 (1993).
↵11 The conference was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and by the Royal Society.
↵12 Arts and Humanities Research Council grant AH/K001841.
↵13 On ‘literary replication’, see J. Secord, ‘Knowledge in transit’, Isis 95, 654–672 (2004), at p. 660.
↵14 A. R. Hall and M. B. Hall (eds), The correspondence of Henry Oldenburg [hereafter Oldenburg Correspondence] (13 volumes) (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 1966), vol. 2, p. 210, Oldenburg to Robert Boyle (22 August 1664).
↵15 Robert Moray to Christiaan Huygens, 13 February 1665 n.s., in Oeuvres complètes de Christiaan Huygens (22 volumes) (Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1888–1950), vol. 5 (1908), pp. 234–235.
↵16 Henry Oldenburg, ‘Advertisement’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 2, 489–490 (1667).
↵17 A. Johns, ‘Miscellaneous methods: authors, societies and journals in early modern England’, Br. J. Hist. Sci. 33, 159–186 (2000); Marie Boas Hall, Henry Oldenburg: shaping the Royal Society (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 84–85.
↵18 On early printers, see D. A. Kronick, ‘Notes on the printing history of the early “Philosophical Transactions”’, Libraries Cult. 25, 243–268 (1990).
↵19 Oldenburg Correspondence, vol. 2, pp. 646–647.
↵20 With the Oxford bookseller, Richard Davis (Oldenburg Correspondence, vol. 2, p. 563); an additional 250 copies were printed that were not part of any profit-sharing agreement: 200 for the bookseller and 50 for Oldenburg personally.
↵21 Oldenburg to Boyle, 17 December 1667. Oldenburg Correspondence, vol. 4, pp. 58–59.
↵22 British Library Sloane MS 4026, ff.270–271.
↵23 Lucina Sine Concubitu (1750), A Dissertation on Royal Societies (1750) and Review of the Works of the Royal Society (1751). The first two were printed anonymously but the third appeared under Hill's own name. On Hill, see George Rousseau, The notorious Sir John Hill: the man destroyed by ambition in the age of celebrity (Lehigh University Press, Bethlehem, PA, 2012), pp. 65–83.
↵24 See RS Journal Book (Originals), vol. 22, 23 January 1751/2.
↵25 RS Council Minutes (Originals) [hereafter RS CMO], vol. 4, 19 March 1751/2.
↵26 RS Committee of Papers minute-book [hereafter CMB] 90/1.
↵27 RS CMO/4 15 February 1751/2.
↵28 Peiffer et al. (eds), op. cit. (note 8).
↵29 Charles Blagden Diary, RS CB/3/3 f.8r, 3 July 1794; f.68r, 7 September 1795; f.77v, 17 November 1795.
↵30 See the pencil annotations on RS Letters & Papers, Decade IX, f.57.
↵31 See, for example, the reforms proposed by the committee for reducing membership (RS CMB/1/20); and, notoriously, Charles Babbage's Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (B. Fellowes, London, 1830). The aftermath of the Banks presidency is discussed in M. B. Hall, All scientists now: the Royal Society in the nineteenth century (Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 17–62.
↵32 The Register of Papers (MS/421 and following) is currently being transcribed into a Virtual Register of Papers database by our project team; it will ultimately be a rich resource for analysing editorial practice and the sociology of refereeing.
↵33 RS CMP/7, 6 December 1894.
↵34 RS CMP/10, 21 May 1914.
↵35 Proceedings split into series A and B in 1905.
↵36 P. Collins, ‘A role in running UK science?’, Notes Rec. R. Soc. 64 (suppl. 1), S119–S130 (2010). On the Society in the twentieth century, see the other articles in that issue of Notes Rec. R. Soc, and Peter Collins's forthcoming book on the post-1960 period.
↵37 Figures provided by Royal Society's publishing division.
↵38 A. Weedon, Victorian Publishing: the economics of book production for a mass market, 1836–1916 (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2003).
↵39 M. Twyman, Printing 1770–1970: an illustrated history of its development and uses in England (British Library, London, 1998), ch. 6. On the implications of this for science, see G. Belknap, ‘“From a Photograph”: photography and the periodical print press 1870–90’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge (2011), ch. 2.
↵40 Emergency Finance Committee, 1 July 1920, CMB/86/1/2.
↵41 This coincides with the so-called ‘discovery phase’ of modern journals, including the successes of Elsevier and Pergamon. See R. Campbell, E. Pentz & I. Borthwick, Academic and professional publishing (Chandos Publishing, Oxford, 2012), p. 3.
↵42 Total unrestricted income was £12.1m. See Trustee's report and financial statements (Royal Society, London, 2014), pp. 82 and 94.
↵43 Alex Csiszar's work particularly focuses on the early joint reports, and the issue of secret decision-making. A book-length study is expected: Csiszar, op. cit. (note 9).
↵44 The role of Stokes in the maturing of refereeing is the subject of a forthcoming paper by Julie McDougall-Waters.
↵45 Analysis of decision times is based on our Virtual Register of Papers database. Some referees managed to report in less than a week, but there was a very, very long tail of referees who took much, much longer.
↵46 They already overlapped significantly. For instance, by 1892 (if not earlier), the meetings moved to the pre-circulation of papers supplemented by the discussion of selected papers involving ‘experiments, diagrams &c’ in an endeavour to make meetings more interesting; see CMP/6, 18 February 1892.
↵47 There was lengthy discussion of the merits of establishing Sectional Committees; Council approved them in CMP/7, 21 February 1895, but then spent more months in discussing how they should be composed, and how they should operate. There had also been Sectional Committees in operation in the 1840s.
- © 2015 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society.