Making public ahead of print: meetings and publications at the Royal Society, 1752-1892

Aileen Fyfe, Noah Moxham

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This essay examines the interplay between the meetings and publications of learned scientific societies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when journals were an established but not yet dominant form of scholarly communication. The practice of ‘making public’ research at meetings, long before actual ‘publication’ in society periodicals, enabled a complex of more-or-less formal sites of communication and discussion ahead of print. Using two case studies from the Royal Society of London – Jan Ingen-Housz in 1782 and John Tyndall in 1857/8 – we reveal how different individuals navigated and exploited the power structures, social activities and seasonal rhythms of learned societies, all necessary precursors to gaining admission to the editorial processes of society journals, and trace the shifting significance of meetings in the increasingly competitive and diverse realm of Victorian scientific publishing. We conclude by reflecting on the implications of these historical perspectives for current discussions of the ‘ends’ of the scientific journal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-379
Number of pages19
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Issue number4
Early online date7 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2016


  • Science
  • Pre-print
  • Sociability
  • Orality
  • Communication
  • Publication


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