Welcome to our site exploring the history – and future – of academic publishing, especially scientific journals.

It is the outcome of a research project investigating the 350-year archival history of the world’s longest running scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions. 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?

For more on the lessons that history offers for the present and future of scholarly communication, start by browsing our blog. (The blog is the live part of this site, and is still being updated with our research findings.)

For those interested in the history, we have a variety of resources here:

  • A narrative overview of the history of the Philosophical Transactions, plus some case studies from each decade
  • A Key Facts service (searchbox on top right of this page), which mines our datasets for a year of your choice, and pulls up editorial, publication, circulation and pricing information (if we have it!)
  • Lists of the printers and editors of the Transactions
  • A collection of historical Documents, representing pivotal moments in the history of Royal Society publishing, each accompanied by a short essay.

You may also like to explore resources on the Royal Society’s website, including:

  • You can read 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 research was undertaken by a team of cultural historians led by PI Prof Aileen Fyfe on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: The Economic, Social and Cultural History of a Learned Journal, 1665-2015‘. If you have any questions, leave a comment or get in touch @ahrcphiltrans.

About our project: the research was undertaken by a team of cultural historians led by Professor Aileen Fyfe of the University of St Andrews, with generous advice and assistance from the Publishing team and the Library & Archives team at the Royal Society. Meet the team, or find out about our academic publications, public talks, blog posts and so forth.

The Philosophical Transactions through the ages