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The Scientific Journal

Authorship and the Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century

The Scientific Journal

Authorship and the Politics of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century

Not since the printing press has a media object been as celebrated for its role in the advancement of knowledge as the scientific journal. From open communication to peer review, the scientific journal has long been central both to the identity of academic scientists and to the public legitimacy of scientific knowledge. But that was not always the case. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, academies and societies dominated elite study of the natural world.  Journals were a relatively marginal feature of this world, and sometimes even an object of outright suspicion.

The Scientific Journal tells the story of how that changed. Alex Csiszar takes readers deep into nineteenth-century London and Paris, where savants struggled to reshape scientific life in the light of rapidly changing political mores and the growing importance of the press in public life. The scientific journal did not arise as a natural solution to the problem of communicating scientific discoveries. Rather, as Csiszar shows, its dominance was a hard-won compromise born of political exigencies, shifting epistemic values, intellectual property debates, and the demands of commerce. Many of the tensions and problems that plague scholarly publishing today are rooted in these tangled beginnings. As we seek to make sense of our own moment of intense experimentation in publishing platforms, peer review, and information curation, Csiszar argues powerfully that a better understanding of the journal’s past will be crucial to imagining future forms for the expression and organization of knowledge.

368 pages | 41 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

History: General History, History of Ideas

History of Science

Library Science and Publishing: Publishing

Media Studies


“Amid fresh convulsions in scholarly publishing, much here resonates — not least, how commercial interests have shaped science communication almost from the start.”


"[F]ascinating and carefully researched . . . . This timely book challenges our notion of the traditional scientific journal by showing that it was the result of a long and complex historical process and much controversy."

Times Higher Education

"A timely reminder that the literary marketplace and political ideologies, together with science practitioners' own interests, shape the vehicles and multiple roles of science communication. . . . It is indispensable for graduates in the history of science and, especially, in library and information science. . . . Essential."


"This book is really the first one that focuses on the development and emergence of the scholarly journal as we know it today. . . . The author’s interpretations of the past in the introduction and conclusion are keen and help the reader better understand the twenty-first-century status quo of scholarly publishing. . . . In addition to those studying the history of science, this book will be of interest to scholars of library and information science, epistemology, the history of bibliography, and the history of the UK and France."


"The book is full of detailed sketches of the fascinating personalities involved in the development of an institution -- journal publishing -- that we often think of as having always existed. Csiszar gives a compelling account of how the publication of scientific results in the fragmented form of journal articles won out as a format over comprehensive books. . . . This book will be a very welcome resource for students of the history of academic publishing, as well as anyone with an interest in the history of science as it tracks with the origins of the institution of the scientific journal."

Publishing Research Quarterly

"Through a rigorous examination of the role of scientific institutions in framing knowledge, Csiszar has provided a compelling account of why the scientific journal took the shape that it did. His book is ambitious, in command of its material, and full of detail. More importantly, by showing how science came to be entangled with a particular medium of communication, it constitutes a timely reminder that the history of ideas cannot be separated from the forms in which those ideas were embodied."

Victorian Studies

“A scientific journal can make for dry reading; The Scientific Journal, on the other hand, does not. Csiszar provides a fascinating account about how this particular genre came to have its current form and, most importantly, its overwhelming status. There are thought-provoking challenges to our assumptions about scientific communication on just about every page.”

Michael D. Gordin, Princeton University

"This clever and absorbing history charts the coming into being and imminent passing away of one of the most important forms of scientific activity - journal publication. Stocked with fascinating tales of scientific authors' deeds and sufferings, and of publishers' market savvy and ingenious trickery, Csiszar shows that the allegedly novel and dramatic alliance between scientific writing and commercial interest is nothing new, and in fact dominated the original developments of scientific literature and its vagaries in earlier centuries. The book explains how the notion of a quick and cheap technological fix for any apparent trouble of public knowledge first gained ground and why its mythology so evidently survives. The book will be indispensable for anyone interested in the roots of trust in scientific facts and their authors, and the central role played by print media in the crisis of intellectual authority."

Simon Schaffer, University of Cambridge

"Certain books are as valuable for what they reveal about our professional inheritance as for what they tell us about the history of science. This is one of those books. It is impossible to read The Scientific Journal without reflecting upon the mechanisms of academic publishing today."

The British Journal for the History of Science

"With this work, undoubtedly destined to become a standard reference, Alex Csiszar marks an important milestone in a debate that will go on."

Revue d’histoire des sciences (Translated from French)

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction: “Broken Pieces of Fact”

1          The Press and Academic Judgment
2          Meeting in Public
3          The Author and the Referee
4          Discovery, Publication, and Property
5          What Is a Scientific Paper?
6          Access Fantasies at the Fin de Siècle

Conclusion: Impact Stories
Archives and Abbreviations


History of Science Society: Pfizer Award
Short Listed

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