Scholarly Societies 


The Critical Role of Scholarly Societies in the Past
Introductory Remarks
The Early Contribution of Scholarly Societies to the Scholarly Enterprise n this brief essay, we identify a couple of reasons why scholarly societies played such a critical role in the early years of the European Enlightenment. Central to this thesis is their effectiveness in facilitating the interaction between like-minded scholars - both in person and through the further development of the shared scholarly record.
Scholarly Societies as Meeting Places
Ornstein on Early Societies Providing Meeting Spaces n 1928 Martha Ornstein published a seminal work entitled Rôle of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century (Ornstein 1928) . Although the scope of her work is primarily restricted to the sciences, she occasionally made reference to societies that were concerned with the humanities and social sciences.

In her work, she traced the first scientific societies to the early years of the seventeenth century. She indicated that the goal of these early societies was generally to promote research by providing a meeting place at which research could be discussed or even carried out.

Ornstein on the Origin of the Royal Society in a Series of Meetings

n Ornstein's chapter on The Royal Society, she notes that it grew out of informal weekly meetings in London that first began in 1645. At these meetings, people interested in the new experimental science gathered for discussions. Some members moved to Oxford around 1648-1649, and established separate meetings there. But by 1658 many had moved back to London, and Gresham College in London became the focus of the meetings that led to the founding in 1660 of the Royal Society (also known as the Royal Society of London), which still exists today.

Scholarly Societies as Publishers of Research Journals
Ornstein on the Need for the Establishment of Impartiality in the Scholarly Record Initial I, Ornate n a later chapter on Scientific Journals, Ornstein points out that scholarly communication existed among scientists prior to the establishment of real scientific journals, but that it was primarily in the form of informal hand-written correspondence by some of the voluminous letters-writers of the day, like Mersenne and Wallis. She notes that this type of communication caused problems of impartiality in evaluating research, and of establishing priority.
The Editor of the Scholarly Societies Project points to the Early Use of Encryption to Establish Priority stablishing priority was a particular concern among mathematicians in the 17th century. For more information on this matter, see the following Monday 26 June 2023 - 16.21 blog post: "Scientific Challenges and Encryption of Discoveries in the 17th Century Rational Mechanics" which appears on the British Society for the History of Mathematics website at It should be noted that this is one problem that scholarly journals were intended to mitigate.
Kronick on the Stability of Society Journals over Independent Journals Initial I, Ornate n 1962 Kronick published a History of Scientific & Technical Periodicals: The origins and development of the scientific and technical press, 1665-1790. (Kronick 1962)) covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He points out that in addition to research journals published by scholarly societies, there were also so-called "independent" research journals that had no affiliation with a scholarly society. He also points out that independent journals were associated with individual editors, and therefore tended to be of briefer duration than journals published by scholarly societies, which had the ongoing institutional resources of a society.
The Reuss Repertorium indexes Early Scholarly Articles etween the years 1801-1821, Jeremias David Reuss (German librarian, literary historian, classical philologist and naturalist who lived 1750-1837) created a monumental sixteen-volume bibliography of scholarly articles entitled Repertorium Commentationum a Societatibus Litterariis Editarum, Secundum Disciplinarum Ordinem. [Index of articles published by scholarly societies, arranged by discipline.] More information at Reuss.

This work was much praised as the one and only index to journal articles covering all subjects for the entire 17th and 18th century scholarly record. Nothing similar had been published before, nor has been since then. The early volumes have the title page, tables of contents and section headings given entirely in Latin. This massive work is available freely in a couple of online platforms.

The Implicit Endorsement of Journals Published by Scholarly Societies he natural place to locate an explanation of why Reuss limited the scope of his bibliography to articles in journals published by scholarly societies would be in the initial pages of individual volumes of the set. Alas, each volume begins with a Table of Contents (usually called "Elenchus" - meaning "list") and then the textual material jumps immediately to bibliographic entries (given in the language in which they originally appeard). We take the absence of any such explanation as a tacit assumption that articles in journals published by scholarly societies are more likely to be of research quality than those found in independent journals.


Published 2024, February 20
Jim Parrott, Editor
Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum
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