UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Seminar: Aileen Fyfe (St. Andrews) - The business of circulating knowledge: The Royal Society's Journals in the 20th century

Start: Oct 01, 2017 04:00 PM

Location: UCL Malet Place Engineering building, room 1.2


1st November 2017, starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


UCL Malet Place Engineering building, room 1.2, starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


By the twentieth century, the Royal Society was an experienced publisher of scientific journals: the Philosophical Transactions had been founded in 1665, while the Proceedings was created in 1831. The Society’s approach to publishing in the nineteenth century had been generous and gentlemanly, but this was already difficult to sustain by the 1890s. In this paper, I will investigate how the Society and its journals weathered the challenges of the twentieth century, especially the growth of scientific research. I will discuss both the editorial practices that determined which knowledge claims made it into print; and the business model that determined how that knowledge then circulated. With more papers being submitted, could the fellows of the Society cope with the editorial and refereeing burden? And could the funds of the Society continue to pay for so much print to be distributed for free? By the mid twentieth century, the Society also had to reconsider the place of publishing amidst its other activities, and the role for society-publishing in an era when a successful commercial model for journal publishing had finally emerged. (I will finish in 1990, just before the digital revolution hit the Royal Society.)

About the speaker

Dr Aileen Fyfe grew up in Glasgow, took all her degrees at Cambridge (Jesus College), and, after getting her PhD in 2000, spent ten years as a lecturer in the History Department at NUI Galway, in Ireland. She returned to Scotland to join the St Andrews School of History at the start of 2011.

Aileen usually describes herself as a social and cultural historian of the sciences, but she’s equally likely to claim to be an historian of publishing, and at St Andrews she is described as a modern British historian. She did her graduate training in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, and an interest in the production, circulation and consumption of knowledge remains at the core of all her work.

Among the topics she has written about are: the readership of science books for children in the 1790s; university textbooks and examinations in the 1810s and 1820s; religious publishing charities in the 1840s; and the natural historical and geological content of tourist guidebooks in the 1850s. Her Science and Salvation: evangelicals and popular science in Victorian Britain (2004) investigated the authors and editors of the science works produced by the Religious Tract Society in the 1840s, arguing that evangelicals were far less opposed to the sciences than had previously been assumed. Her co-edited Science in the Marketplace: nineteenth-century sites and experiences (2007) has been widely recognised as making an important contribution to the debates on popular science, by drawing attention beyond the printed word, to include museums, exhibitions, zoos, lectures and conversations, and the interaction between these media.

STS research seminars

The purpose of this series is to provide colleagues with an opportunity to present their latest research results and discuss them within a collegial atmosphere. 

STS research seminars are open to scholars from any academic field. These normally are research intensive, specialised events, of interest specifically to scholars in the discipline. More upcoming talks in the STS research seminar series are listed in the STS calendar (link).