Illustrating the Philosophical Transactions in the 1680s

Noah Moxham (St Andrews)

This paper uses the practices of illustration in the Philosophical Transactions as a mean of tracing a fundamental reconfiguration of the world’s first scientific journal at an unusually fraught and fluid point in its history. The periodical was revived, following a four-year interruption, as a joint venture between the Society’s secretaries, Francis Aston and Robert Plot, and between the Royal Society in London and the nascent philosophical society in Oxford. The papers printed in the periodical were routinely and exchanged and discussed in both societies prior to printing and illustration was an essential part of making the work intelligible to both audiences; but the renewed emphasis on illustration was also a reflection of a distinct shift in the function of the periodical, as a vehicle for publishing original research systematically prosecuted within the two Societies rather than for scraps of natural-philosophical news and correspondence from without. More broadly, it examines the increasing importance of illustration in the preoccupations and research agendas of the Royal Society’s second generation of Fellows, and their strategies for sustaining and reviving the Society after the death, demission or withdrawal of many of its founding fellows.

‘Engraving of the anatomy of a rattlesnake’ by Michael Burghers from a drawing by Richard Waller. Philosophical Transactions number 144 (1683)
‘Engraving of the anatomy of a rattlesnake’ by Michael Burghers, from a drawing by Richard Waller. Philosophical Transactions number 144 (1683).


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