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Science Periodicals in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Constructing Scientific Communities

Periodicals played a vital role in the developments in science and medicine that transformed nineteenth-century Britain. Proliferating from a mere handful to many hundreds of titles, they catered to audiences ranging from gentlemanly members of metropolitan societies to working-class participants in local natural history clubs. In addition to disseminating authorized scientific discovery, they fostered a sense of collective identity among their geographically dispersed and often socially disparate readers by facilitating the reciprocal interchange of ideas and information. As such, they offer privileged access into the workings of scientific communities in the period.
The essays in this volume set the historical exploration of the scientific and medical periodicals of the era on a new footing, examining their precise function and role in the making of nineteenth-century science and enhancing our vision of the shifting communities and practices of science in the period. This radical rethinking of the scientific journal offers a new approach to the reconfiguration of the sciences in nineteenth-century Britain and sheds instructive light on contemporary debates about the purpose, practices, and price of scientific journals.

424 pages | 44 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

History: British and Irish History

History of Science

Library Science and Publishing: Publishing


"This book raises many questions and treats a broad range of themes... Suffice it to say that the result is a rich and coherent ensemble. The book is carefully produced with chapters well calibrated and structured, featuring a pertinent collection of black and white illustrations and a useful index."


“A magnificent volume. . . . Science Periodicals in Nineteenth-Century Britain, which brings together many of the finest scholars in the field, does full justice to the richness of nineteenth-century scientific periodicals and makes a persuasive case for what they reveal about the communities that bought, read, and contributed to them.”

Journal of British Studies

"The essays in this volume detail for the first time how lay participation in scientific activities sometimes fostered successful organizations and developed cultural and knowledge bonds between scientists and nonscientists. The descriptions of 19th-century public engagement efforts will be insightful to current practitioners in the fields of science and health literacy. The book complements Melinda Baldwin's Making Nature: The History of a Scientific Journal. It will be useful to those in the history of science and medicine, health communication, science communication, health literacy, science literacy, and the sociology of science and medicine. . . . Highly recommended."


"This volume tells us a lot about scientifc practice in 19th Century Britain. It should be of great interest not only to historians of publishing but also to people with an interest in the history of science which, after all, is made public by publications. Moreover, the debates surrounding public participation in scientifc and medical progress can inform our thinking about these questions today, though the means of communication may difer signifcantly from the periodicals of the 19th Century."

Publishing Research Quarterly

"Bringing together research by historians of science and scholars of literature and science, Science Periodicals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Constructing Scientific Communities explores in detail the two-way relationship between nineteenth-century science periodicals and scientific communities. . . . The collection highlights the vital role of science periodicals in creating and sustaining communities of scientific readers and practitioners, and it will influence not only future work on science periodicals but also broader research within the fields of history of science and periodical studies in the nineteenth century and beyond."

Victorian Periodicals Review

“An engaging and wide-ranging edited collection on nineteenth-century science periodicals which will appeal to scholars of both the literature and the history of science of this period. . . . The volume is a welcome addition to the field of periodical studies and indeed offers an excellent introduction not only to the book but also to the discipline.”


Science Periodicals in Nineteenth-Century Britain offers an excellent, extraordinarily varied insight into the role and development of scientific periodicals. . . . It offers historians of scientific periodicals numerous opportunities to focus more on lesser-known journals and to ask how these journals act as sources to better understand the sociocultural aspects of knowledge-gaining and distribution. With its profound and innovative perspective, I have no doubt that it will lay the ground to enter the second stage of, and offer an invaluable foundation for, future research on scientific periodicals and their scientific communities.”

Journal of European Periodical Studies

"Today the preferred form of scientific publication is almost always an article in a journal. But how did this come to be the case? From luxurious quarto transactions to gossipy newssheets, the nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of periodicals devoted to astronomy, natural history, medicine, physics, geology, and the sciences more generally. These encouraged debate, attracted new talent, and forged scientific communities. With this well-edited and accessible volume, the transformation of journal publication in Britain—a critical episode in the making of modern science—at last receives its due."

Jim Secord, University of Cambridge

"This innovative, insightful, and valuable collection advances the historical and critical understanding of scientific periodical publication and readership in nineteenth-century Britain in important ways. Much of the existing literature on the topic has focused on general-interest periodicals; this volume offers, for the first time, an extremely well-researched, substantial comparative study of specialist scientific periodicals throughout the period. It’s an impressive and polished collection of scholarship."

Robin Vandome, University of Nottingham

"This fascinating book will transform how we think about scientific communities in nineteenth-century Britain. The existence of such a wide variety of periodicals draws our attention to those who read and contributed to them: backyard astronomers, school physics teachers, and public health campaigners, as well as university-educated gentlemen scholars. Some of these people had local clubs where they could share their interests; but for many others, periodicals were central to their sense of belonging to a wider community. By exploring how editors, publishers, and contributors shaped periodicals to meet the needs of their communities of readers, this book helps us reflect on issues of diversity and inclusion, credibility and trust, and authority and control in science."

Aileen Fyfe, University of St Andrews

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