Editors at work: Constructing Knowledge and Identity through scientific Periodicals, 1760s-1910s, January 18-19, St. Andrews

The Edinburgh Journal of Natural and Geographical Science, 1829

The workshop ‘Editors and Editing of Scientific Periodicals: Constructing Knowledge and Identity, 1760s-1910s’ was hosted by the School of History at the OCL and Undercroft from 18th to 19th January. It brought together international researchers to exchange the latest results of their work about European editors of scientific periodicals from the Enlightenment to the early 20th century.

The topics ranged from one of the first and most famous English scientific periodicals, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London and its complex publication procedure, to some highly specialised and short-lived journals like The Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer. The papers focused on the work of the editors, their place and influence in the scientific community and how they adapted to the demands of their readers.

The panels were held with two papers each, followed by a discussion of half an hour about similarities and differences amongst editors and editorial practise as well as the development of the editors’ role and influence.

The famously bad weather of the late January caused a delay of the speakers from Göttingen so that the first panel on Thursday and the first on Friday had to be switched. This tumbled the chronology of the talks but not the good humour of the participants.

Adam Dunn from University of St Andrews kindly volunteered to begin with an overview of statistical journals of John Sinclair in Scotland and August Ludwig von Schlötzer in Germany, followed by an examination of the 19th century competing editors of entomology periodicals, Henry Tibbats Stainton and Edward Newman by Matthew Wale from University of Leicester.

Philosophical Transactions Vol.61 (1771)

The next panel compared the Philosophical Transactions at the turn of the 18th century under the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, presented by Noah Moxham, and the newly founded German periodical Archiv der Physiologie by Johann Christian Reil, Professor for Physiology in Halle, by Marco Segala. The prestigious Philosophical Transactions was an exclusive organ to print only those papers read and approved during the meetings of the Royal Society, whereas Reil’s periodical was only one of several in the German speaking countries but meant to be a forum to consolidate physiological research.

The Friday panels gave an insight into the circumstances of editorship, the development of disciplines along-side and through periodicals and the economical and political difficulties of the growing market of the 19th century.

Jon Topham from University of Leeds spoke on the construction of scientific communities through scientific periodicals in late Georgian Britain. Martin Gierl from Lichtenberg-Kolleg, The Göttingen Institute of Advanced Study, showed in his talk about the editorship in the Heiliges Römisches Reich between 1765 and 1815 that German scientific periodicals were predominantly projects of university professors and therefore connected to academic institutions.

Between the first and the second panel the participants got the opportunity to have a close look at some of the journals introduced in the papers. The University of St Andrews Library displayed original pieces of their special collection, such as the Philosophical Transactions, The Weekly Intelligencer and the German natural history journal Aus der Natur. This made it possible to compare the different periodicals directly and gain an idea of the outcome of the editors’ work, now acting as objects and links to the past the workshop investigated so closely.

Following these inspiring impressions, the second panel investigated editorship as a contribution factor to the development of disciplines. Dominik Hünninger from Lichtenberg-Kolleg, The Göttingen Institute for Advanced Studies spoke about how specialised entomological journals in Germany about 1800 helped to outline disciplines in the natural sciences. Bill Jenkins from the University of Edinburgh focused on the case of Robert Jameson and David Brewster, conductors of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal and the Edinburgh Journal of Science and discussed their editorial tactics and advantages against his competitors William Ainsworth and Henry Cheek.

The Edinburgh Journal of Science. No. XII. April 1827

The first afternoon panel gave an insight into editorship as a means of social and professional advancement. Sally Frampton from Oxford University introduced the increasing influence of medical journal editors controlling the publication topics. Jenny Beckman from Uppsala University talked about the strategy of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science under its Secretary Jöns Jacob Berzelius which maintained their international connections to spread their influence and receive foreign research by exchanging transactions. Both talks showed that personal efforts of editors and the relationship to others shaped the content of the periodicals significantly.

The last panel illuminated the role of gatekeeping, that is how selection procedure of a journal made an impact on which articles were published and under which circumstances. Alrun Schmidtke from Humboldt University gave an example of two opposite working editor boards regarding the publication criteria. The editor of the geographical periodical Geographisches Mitteilungen August Heinrich Petermann in Gotha demanded well confirmed content. Paul Rosbaud, the editor of the journal Metallwirtschaft, a combination of an industrial catalogue advertising machines and informing about latest developments and technologies, focused on articles convenient to the advertisement. Aileen Fyfe from St Andrews University concluded with examples of editorship without an editor illustrating the role of the editorial board of the Philosophical Transactions in the mid-19th century where the system of selecting articles to publish had become highly complex.

The workshop organised by Professor Aileen Fyfe and PhD candidate Anna Gielas from University of St Andrews ended with an informal discussion with wine and nibbles where the different aspects of editorship and periodicals have been further discussed.

The talks and comprehensive discussions gave an insight into different forms of editorship and publishing periodicals society-based and commercially from the late 18th to the beginning of the 20th century. The workshop gave the opportunity to illuminate the role of editors in different countries and their influence on scientific research through their periodicals. The talks and discussions were very efficient and motivated the further research of the topic.

by Alexander Stöger
All rights for the pictures are reserved by the University Libray of St Andrews.