About the project

This website is the product and legacy of a research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council from 2013-2017 (AH-K001841). It was led by Aileen Fyfe [@aileenfyfe], of the University of St Andrews, aided and abetted by postdoctoral researchers Noah Moxham, Julie McDougall-Waters and Camilla Mørk Røstvik [@CRostvik].

The Royal Society is the publisher of the oldest surviving scientific journal in the world: the Philosophical Transactions. The journal celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2015, and our project aimed to use the rich archives of the Royal Society to investigate the challenges and opportunities of scholarly publishing over the past centuries. We benefitted enormously from the practical support of the Royal Society’s library and archive staff, and from the enthusiastic interest of the publishing division.

Our research involved poring over committee minute books, trying to read early-modern correspondence, and struggling to make sense of Victorian financial ledgers. It also involved waiting for boxes of ‘modern records’ to be retrieved from storage in a Cheshire salt-mine, and hoping that it would be possible to find ways to retrieve editorial paperwork from the early days of the Society’s move to electronic record-keeping. As well as all the paperwork, our research also draws upon formal interviews with people who worked in or with the Society’s publications from the 1970s onwards; and it has been informed and shaped by conversations with the current publishing team.

The project began as a study of the Transactions, but it turned into a wider study of the Royal Society’s journal publishing activities. The history of Transactions cannot be understood in isolation from that of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which launched as an abstract journal in 1831 but emerged as the Society’s main research journal in the early twentieth century. The spate of new journals launched in the early twenty-first century show how the Society responded to the opportunities of digital publishing, and to the new enthusiasm for interdisciplinary research.

If you would like to learn more about our research findings, we have grouped our key publications and talks by topic:

350 years of Royal Society publishing

Fyfe, A., Moxham, N., McDougall-Waters, J., & Røstvik, C. M. (2022). A History of Scientific Journals: Royal Society publishing, 1665-2015. London: UCL Press.

Fyfe, A., McDougall-Waters, J., & Moxham, N. (2014). Philosophical Transactions: 350 years of publishing at the Royal Society (1665 – 2015) [illustrated exhibition catalogue] http://hdl.handle.net/10023/6058

Fyfe, A., McDougall-Waters, J., & Moxham, N. (2015). 350 years of scientific periodicals. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 69(3), 227-239.

Moxham, N. (2015). Fit for print: developing an institutional model of scientific periodical publishing in England, 1665–ca. 1714. Notes & Records of the Royal Society, 69(3), 241-260. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2015.0035

Moxham, N. (2019). The uses of licensing: Publishing strategy and the imprimatur at the early Royal Society. In M. Feingold & G. Giannini (Eds.), Institutionalisation of sciences in early modern Europe (pp. 266-291). Leiden: Brill.

Moxham, N. (2019). Natural Knowledge, Inc.: the Royal Society as a metropolitan corporation. The British Journal for the History of Science, 52(2), 249-271. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087419000190

Editorial practices, and the history of peer review

Moxham, N. (2016). Authors, Editors and Newsmongers: Form and Genre in the Philosophical Transactions under Henry Oldenburg. In J. Raymond & N. Moxham (Eds.), News Networks in Early Modern Europe (pp. 463-492). Leiden: Brill.

Moxham, N., & Fyfe, A. (2018). The Royal Society and the prehistory of peer review, 1665-1965. Historical Journal, 61(4), 863-889. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X17000334

Moxham, N. (2020). ‘Accoucheur of literature’: Joseph Banks and the Philosophical Transactions, 1778-1820. Centaurus, 62(1), 21-37. https://doi.org/10.1111/1600-0498.12278

Fyfe, A. (2020). Editors, Referees and Committees: distributing editorial work at the Royal Society journals in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Centaurus, 62(1), 125-140. https://doi.org/10.1111/1600-0498.12266

Fyfe, A., Squazzoni, F., Torny, D., & Dondio, P. (2020). Managing the growth of peer review at the Royal Society journals, 1865-1965. Science, Technology and Human Values, 45(3), 405-429. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243919862868

Fyfe, A., & Gielas, A. (2020). Introduction: Editorship and the editing of scientific journals, 1750–1950. Centaurus, 62(1), 5-20. https://doi.org/10.1111/1600-0498.12290

The history of the circulation and distribution of scientific journals [open access]

Fyfe, A. (2020). The Royal Society and the Noncommercial Circulation of Knowledge. In M. P. Eve & J. Gray (Eds.), Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access (pp. 147-160). Cambridge MA: MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/11885.003.0016

Fyfe, A. (2019). Scientific Publications. In S. Eliot & J. Rose (Eds.), Companion to the History of the Book, 2nd Edition (pp. 976). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Fyfe, A., & Moxham, N. (2016). Making Public ahead of Print: Meetings and Publications at the Royal Society, 1752-1892. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 70(4), 361-379. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2016.0030

Fyfe, A. (2022, September) ‘After hours with the Philosophical Transactions’ [a talk for the Linda Hall Library, about challenges of circulating printed journals in the eighteenth century transatlantic world] https://afterhoursphilosophicaltransactions.splashthat.com/?fbclid=IwAR1_CoV8Y3qWVk40JLTR94MUmifdQi6lAeBsQPDOH-3KDfwzkcwKpNff7V4

The economic and financial history of journal publishing

Fyfe, A. (2015). Journals, learned societies and money: Philosophical Transactions, ca. 1750–1900. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 69(3), 277-299. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2015.0032

Fyfe, A. (2022). From philanthropy to business: the economics of Royal Society journal publishing in the twentieth century. Notes & Records of the Royal Society. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2022.0021

Fyfe, A. (2022). Self-help for learned journals: Scientific societies and the commerce of publishing in the 1950s. History of Science, 60(2), 255-279. https://doi.org/10.1177/0073275321999901

Diversity and power dynamics in journal publishing

Røstvik, C. M., & Fyfe, A. (2018). Ladies, Gentlemen, and Scientific Publication at the Royal Society, 1945-1990. Open Library of Humanities, 4. http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.265

Fyfe, A., & Røstvik, C. M. (2018). How female fellows fared at the Royal Society: Archive study shows that formal inclusion of women does not automatically lead to their full participation. Nature, 555(7695), 159-161. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-02746-z

Fyfe, A. (2018, 10 Sept. 2018). Then and now – exploring diversity in peer review at the Royal Society.  Retrieved from https://blogs.royalsociety.org/publishing/peer-review-at-the-royal-society/

The history of copyright, reprinting and reuse

Fyfe, A., McDougall-Waters, J., & Moxham, N. (2018). Credit, Copyright, and the Circulation of Scientific Knowledge: The Royal Society in the Long Nineteenth Century. Victorian Periodicals Review, 51(4), 597-615. https://doi.org/10.1353/vpr.2018.0045

Fyfe, A. (2020). The production, circulation, consumption and ownership of scientific knowledge: historical perspectives. CREATe Working Paper [CREATe: UK Copyright and Creative Economy Centre, University of Glasgow] https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3859493

Fyfe, A. (2017 May), ‘Academics ‘should not sign over research copyright to publishers’ Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/academics-should-not-sign-over-research-copyright-publishers

Societies as publishers

Fyfe, A. (2022). Self-help for learned journals: Scientific societies and the commerce of publishing in the 1950s. History of Science, 60(2), 255-279. https://doi.org/10.1177/0073275321999901

Fyfe, A. (2017, May 26), ‘Commercial publishing has had its day, and societies must adapt’, Research Fortnight, http://www.researchresearch.com/news/article/?articleId=1368149

Fyfe, A. (2020, November), ‘Mission or money?’ Open Science talk #29 https://soundcloud.com/opensciencetalk/mission-or-money

The relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research

Fyfe, A., Coate, K., Curry, S., Lawson, S., Moxham, N., & Rostvik, C. M. (2017). Untangling Academic Publishing: A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research [24pp briefing paper]. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.546100

Røstvik, Camilla Mørk (2017, June), ‘Det er på tide at akademikere bryr seg om publiserings industrien’, Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift [in Norwegian]

Fyfe, A. ‘Why do academics publish (the way that they do)?’ [inaugural professorial lecture at the University of St Andrews, November 2020] https://youtu.be/sKR4NgshTIs

Fyfe, A. ‘Evaluating scientific papers, and their authors, at the Royal Society of London, c.1780-1980’ [research seminar to the History of Universities group, February 2022] https://youtu.be/_5sMxMa1mzc