Was every paper read at the Society’s weekly meetings?

Since 1752, the rule was that every paper submitted to the Royal Society should be read at the Society’s weekly meetings before it could be considered for publication in the Transactions. In the second half of the nineteenth century, due to the volume of papers received, it became the practice to just read the title or maybe the abstract of most papers. In 1892, however, a new set of Standing Orders formally acknowledged that, due to the press of papers submitted and the limited time available in meetings, papers could be considered for publication even if all that was read of them in the meetings was the title (Approved 18 February 1892, RS Council Minutes Printed [hereafter RS CMP] vol. 6 (first discussed in December 1891)). These standing orders publicly articulated for the first time the criteria that would be used for choosing papers for meetings (papers which ‘the author is prepared to illustrate by experiments, diagrams &c., or which is likely to give rise to discussion’); but in doing so, the Society, also for the first time, relaxed the condition that tied publication to meetings. Henceforth a subset of papers accepted for publication would be read at a meeting, rather than a subset of the papers read at the meeting being published. This was a symbolic moment, representing a tacit acknowledgement of the subordination of meetings and the primacy of print publication.

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