The geography and politics of the Royal Society’s approach to circulating scientific journals, c.1760-1930

Aileen Fyfe*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Philanthropic gifts to learned institutions was the key way in which the scientific journals of the Royal Society of London circulated internationally in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This paper begins by considering the origins of the practice of using the Philosophical Transactions and the Proceedings of the Royal Society as gifts and in exchanges. Over the course of the nineteenth century, more and more institutions were added to the list of recipients. This growth reflects the expanding geographical horizons of the Royal Society’s view of science and scholarship – from Britain and western Europe, to the British empire and a few places beyond – and also reveals that a wide variety of organisations (not just university libraries) have historically been considered as plausible points of access for readers of scientific journals. The final section of the paper examines the surviving archival evidence for the tacit evaluation criteria that underpinned the Royal Society’s assessment of the scholarly reputation of other institutions. The result is a new picture of the global landscape of scholarly institutions in the long nineteenth century, as seen from London.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-79
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Dialectics of Nature
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2024


  • Scientific journals
  • Transnational history
  • Royal Society
  • Scientific institutions
  • Scientific communication


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