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Happy 350th Scholarly Journal: What Can Doctoral Programs Learn From Your History?

March 6, 2015

On the 350th anniversary of the scholarly journal, changes to scholarly communication call for incorporation of new vehicles and methods of communication in doctoral education.   On March 6, 1655, Henry Oldenburg published The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Giving some Account of the present Undertakings, Studies, and Labour of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World; the first scholarly journal. In 1660,The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, had brought together natural philosophers by royal charter. 

Oldenburg’s publication evolved to its present day counterpart, which now gives account of the studies of the Ingenious and leaves out their present undertakings and labour.  Improving natural knowledge meant study of an indivisible realm which encompassed botany, mathematics, zoology, physiology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography and so on.  Imagine improvement of knowledge without scientific disciplinary divisions and journals.  That was scholarship in 1660.

Oldenburg assembled the literature of the royal society into a publication both to speed up sharing of knowledge, which had until now occurred through letter writing and meetings, and to make some money

Robert Boyle, the scientist whom school children now learn about, was a member of the society and he wanted Oldenburg to archive, develop provenance, registration and dating of works published in the journal.   Accordingly Oldenburg marked the articles published in Philosophical Transactions, however he didn’t make much money.   Even so, acceptance for publication conferred recognition and became sought after with the added features of archiving and tracking of provenance.

The motto of the society “Nullius in Verba” meant don’t trust claims (but check them) and entrenched the scholarly habit of skepticism and independent thought, associated with the charter for the first university in Bologna in 1088.  In 1752, when the publishing of Philosophical Transactions was getting off point, the society righted its self and declared that the journal would from now on be published ‘for the sole use and benefit of the (royal) society.’  The society therefore asserted integrity for the scholarly brand that continued to confer recognition to natural philosophers of the works it published.  The society established a pedigree of the highest order for its membership, a pedigree associated with a lengthy list of scientific achievements.

At times during its history, Philosophical Transactions was a drain on the finances of the society with the cost to put scientific drawings to print.  Given that the technology of printing then facilitated type and drawings or diagrams required much more labour and therefore cost, the publication struggled.  Taylor & Francis was a specialist printer for the publication at one point, and evolved along with other technological and academic developments in the knowledge communication infrastructure to occupy its present perch as a major player in the now lucrative business of scholarly publications.

As scholarly transactions increased, the journal evolved the standards and specifications for communication of scientific knowledge.  By the late 19th century, it introduced standardization of format, better peer review of articles, and it split into two journals, one for biological sciences and one for physical sciences.

In Latin, 'nullius in verba.'

In Latin, ‘nullius in verba.’

In the history of scholarship, certain threads continue over the centuries, while existing technology supports the root purpose of scholarship, ‘nullius in verba.’  Today, the multiple author academic blog (MAABs) and new genres of scholarly knowledge production give new forms, venues and meaning to publication.  MAABs disrupt and undercut publication pathways to specialty journals which now takes too long, is too slow, and too verbose when a good graphic or video will do.

Scholarly communication continues to evolve and influence the nature of scholarship.  With the inter, cross, and trans discipline pollination just beginning in MAABS, will ‘disciplines’ continue to become broader and more hybrid?  Will students and scholars join together to study phenomena instead of disciplines?  How will the scholars of the future communicate?  What kind of communication skills should doctoral programs impart?  How much should doctoral programs encourage forms of scholarly communication outside of the journal article and print?

Doctoral programs should welcome and invite disciplinary promiscuity and a broadening of experience with new forms of  scholarly communications by:

  •  A requirement that doctoral students write in a multidisciplinary academic blog.
  • Grouping all students who will be using similar research methods together for research methods courses regardless of discipline.
  • Encouraging collaborative and networked research around a common phenomena like water use, aggression, change or garbage.
  • Experimenting with signature pedagogies from other disciplines.

Scholars working today incorporate new media for scholarly communication that tear at disciplinary barriers.  Imagine improvement of knowledge without disciplinary distinctions or journals.  That could be scholarship in the future.  Doctoral education needs to equip its grads to work in the scholarship of the future or loose credibility.  On this 350th anniversary, scholarship has come full circle back to another starting point.  Doctoral education needs to place its graduates at that starting point and needs to question everything.


See the history of copyright battles are writ small in the following chart of access to the publications of Philosophical Transactions.

Content:
a) 1665-1943* Free in perpetuity
b) 1944*-2003* under access control
c) 2004*-2 years ago Free
d) Last 2 years under access control
Each January the years with an * will move forward by one

From → Fabrications

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