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The Royal Society

Philosophical transactions of The Royal Society (First volume published in 1665)

Philosophical Transactions is the world’s oldest and longest-running scientific journal.  It was begun as a private initiative in March 1665 by Henry Oldenburg (ca.1619-1677), who was also the first secretary of The Royal Society.   The journal became immediately popular among scientists of the day and had a broad remit to provide ‘some account of the present undertakings, studies, and labours of the ingenious in many considerable parts of the world’. Among the earliest contributors was Robert Boyle (1627–1691) who later became editor and changed the title temporarily to Philosophical collections.

The journal remained an independent endeavour of subsequent editors of The Royal Society until 1752 when it became an official publication of the Society, funded by members’ subscriptions.  Its character changed from a monthly journal of broad interest to a publication ‘for the sole use and benefit’ of The Royal Society and a Committee of Papers was established which met weekly on Thursdays to decide what to publish.

The Devon and Exeter Institution has a complete set of the abridged Philosophical transactions from 1665 to 1800; the eighteen volumes cover a very wide range of topics within natural philosophy and each volume includes beautiful and instructive plates to illustrate the contributions of the many authors.  Unsurprisingly, the Philosophical transactions were among the earliest volumes collected by the Devon and Exeter Institution which was established in 1813 for the ‘general diffusion of science, literature and the arts’.