What can you discover here?

This site is the outcome of a research project investigating the 350-year history of the world’s longest running scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions. It will help you to explore the history – and to think about the future – of academic publishing, especially scientific journals.

We set out, in 2013, to use the archives held at the Royal Society, London, to find out about the long-term economic, social and cultural transformations of scientific journal publishing, from 1665 to the present day.

Along the way, we realised that this long history can tell us a lot about the reasons that academic publishing today works the way it does. What is the role of learned society publishers in academic publishing? Why is peer review so central to modern academia, and why do we do it the way we do? Why does a subscription-based model of publication seem to have such a hold on academic journal publishing?

The main research project ended in 2017, though the analysing, thinking and writing continues. We have already published academic journal articles on a variety of topics, and are putting the finishing touches to our book-length history of 350 years of Royal Society publishing. This site complements those academic writings: we have written a much briefer overview of the key developments in the history of the Philosophical Transactions, for those who want to know sooner or faster; it allows us to provide access to historical resources and data that could not easily fit into the book; and it gives us a space to reflect on the relevance of our historical research to contemporary debates about the future of scholarly communication.

If you are curious about the lessons that history offers for the present and future of academic publishing, start by browsing our blog (which is where new material is most likely to be added), or exploring the tag cloud to the right.

Our historical resources, in more detail:

History: a narrative overview of the history of the Philosophical Transactions, plus some case studies from each decade

Documents: a collection of historical Documents, representing pivotal moments in the history of Royal Society publishing, each accompanied by a short essay.

Data includes lists of the printers and editors of the Transactions, and an outline of the other data that we are still preparing for release.

The Key Facts service for historical researchers can be accessed via the searchbox on top right of this page. It mines our datasets for a year of your choice, and pulls up editorial, publication, circulation and pricing information (if we have it!)

You may also like to explore the digital resources hosted by the Royal Society, including:

You can read historic papers in the Philosophical Transactions and its sister journal Proceedings of the Royal Society (founded 1831) in the newly redigitised editions that were published by the Royal Society in 2017. All content before 1939 is freely available, as is some of the more recent material.

You can explore the archival records of the Society’s publishing activities on its Science in the Making site. This features a selection of manuscripts of papers (and images) submitted for publication, as well as referee (peer review) reports. Those who are keen can help by transcribing the handwritten documents to enable future analysis!

The Philosophical Transactions through the ages