The Proceedings in the 20th Century

The Proceedings of the Royal Society has been printed since early 1831, when it reported the activities (or ‘proceedings’) of the weekly meetings of the Royal Society. The first meeting reported was that for November 1830. For the rest of the nineteenth century, it carried a mix of content: reports of meetings; annual accounts; summaries of papers presented to meetings of the Societies (similar to abstracts); short stand-alone papers; and occasional longer papers full of data, deemed insufficiently ‘significant’ for publication in the Transactions.


Here, we present some overviews of the twentieth-century Proceedings.

In the early twentieth century, after many decades of calls for reform to the Proceedings, some changes were made. From 1905, the Proceedings was divided into two series: Proceedings A, for physical and mathematical sciences; and Proceedings B, for biological sciences. From 1914, it focused on independent papers (not abstracts), of up to 24-pages; and these were now papers of ‘approved merit’, equivalent to those in the Transactions but shorter. The vast majority of content published by the Royal Society in the twentieth century appeared in the Proceedings, not in the Transactions.

The enforcement of the page limit for the Proceedings meant that its total page output per year was closely linked to the number of articles published. (This contrasts with the Transactions, where exceptions to the nominal limit of 40pages were far from infrequent.)

Prior to the Great War, Proceedings A and Proceedings B carried similar numbers of articles, but after the war, Proceedings A grew dramatically. It was edited by Arthur Schuster, and then James Jeans; and this was the period when the Royal Society was closely associated with the latest developments in modern physics (such as the research undertaken by Ernest Rutherford, who became president of the Society in the late 1920s).

Physical sciences continued to attract far more submissions than biological sciences (and to print more) through until the late 1970s. Since the re-launch of all the Society’s journals in 1990, Proceedings B has come to carry far more material than Proceedings A. The flood of submissions from researchers in molecular biology, genetics, and biomedical sciences enabled the Society to move Proceedings B from a monthly to a fortnightly schedule in DATE; and to launch new bioscience journals: Biology Letters in 2003; and Open Biology in DATE.

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