Our sources

The Royal Society has an extensive and fantastic archive. In fact, it is so big that many of their more modern sources are kept off-site, in a salt-mine in Cheshire. We made good use of all these materials. No other scholarly journal – or periodical of any type – has an archival record for such a long period of time!

The Philosophical Transactions

Following the fortunes of one periodical through three and a half centuries offered us a structuring narrative for the British book trade from the Restoration, through the development of modern publishing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the era of electronic publishing today. One of the source materials is therefore the Philosophical Transactions itself. The Royal Society library has a complete set of the journals in their former library (today a meeting and conference venue; the new library is in the same building). Although our project did not focus on the content or science in the journals, we found valuable information about editors, individuals, communicators and hierarchies in their pages. A large part of the historical journals have also been digitized and is freely available, and are being digitized completely through a new project.

The Royal Society archives

The archives provided crucial background information about the journals. It includes historical referee reports, modern and historical domestic archives, various committees’ papers, Council papers, ad hoc publishing committee reports, private letters (including those of presidents and officers), images, memos, and financial reports. This has provided extensive information about the changes in publishing at the Society over the year, from the number of office staff to policy changes, to ideological debates about the purpose of the journals to referees’ debates about content.

Other archives

We have also visited Harrissons Printers archives, Cambridge University Press archives, the National Archives in Kew, University College Library, the British Library and smaller collections, in order to understand more about context and people connected to the Philosophical Transactions. The fellows, Officers and Presidents of the Royal Society all had various institutional affiliations, so this is why we had to go beyond the Society’s fellows archives to find out more about individuals. We were also kindly lent materials from living individuals private collections, including letters, images, and a T-shirt celebrating the journals from the 1990s!


But we have also used other sources! With kind help from the Royal Society we have interviewed former staff members, editors, authors, referees and others who could give us first-hand knowledge about the modern and contemporary history of the journal. Using a ‘snowball’ model of sourcing interview subjects, we met many people with fantastic memories and facts that they shared with us. This has illuminated the modern chapters of the book, and filled in gaps where the archives were restricted.