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Prior to the development of printing, there was little formal communication because of the difficulties in creating and distributing copies of scholarly works to other scholars. Scholars did write extensively to one another and often at great length, but this communication was both slow and limited to narrow personal circles [McKie, 1979]. The rise of scholarly societies and their associated journals changed all this. In fact, a number of strands came together in the late 17th century to cause the appearance of the first scientific periodicals.
Firstly, printing made easy production of multiple copies available and improved communication technologies (in particular postal and courier services) made distribution of these copies possible. These technologies had existed for some time before they were taken up for scholarly communication and did not change significantly over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries [Kronick, 1976, p. 280]
Secondly, periodical publication in other areas had existed for up to a century prior to the first scientific journal: book catalogues, calendars, almanacs and newspapers. The technologies of the newspapers and almanacs suggested a possible format and distribution channel for scientific results [Kronick, 1976, p. 279].
Thirdly, the existing scholarly correspondence patterns lent themselves to transformation into print. The tone of the communications was already somewhat impersonal in tone and contained items of news and recent discoveries. These scholarly letters also passed through the hands of a small number of learned men who acted as gatekeepers and redistributors (a role that could easily be transformed into that of editor) [Kronick, 1976], [Fjällbrant, 1997].
Fourthly, there was a movement across Europe towards the establishment of scholarly societies as a way to communicate and cooperate better. In 1600 in London the Royal Society was founded, followed by the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1666 and the Kungliga Svenska Vetenskaps Akademie (Royal Swedish Academy of Science) in 1739 [Fjällbrant, 1997].
In response to these technological potentials and to other pressures, the journal in its earliest form came into being. The earliest scientific journal is generally reckoned to be the Journal des Scavans, first published in Paris on Monday, January 5th, 1665. It dealt with news and discoveries in the arts and sciences, but was not formally linked to the Académie des Sciences, being rather intended for interested lay-people. This publication provided a model and impetus for the development of other journals. The first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London was published in part as a response. It was a medium for the publication of observations and experiments, and can be viewed as a collection of letters now reaching (and addressed to) a wider audience [McKie, 1979]. These 'new media' (for their time) allowed small geographically dispersed groups of people to form communities with shared interests [Brown and Duguid, 1995].
Initial growth was fairly slow. By the end of the 17th century, there were perhaps five journals in existence. The first half of the 18th century saw another five added, but then the pace of development accelerated, with a further sixty nine titles added in the second half of the century, over twenty five of these in the last decade [McKie, 1979]. This acceleration continued over the course of the next two centuries, with an analysis of the number of scientific journals available growing from approximately 100 by the end of the 17th century to perhaps 2,000 by the end of the 18th, 16,000 by the end of the 19th and perhaps 90,000 by the end of the 20th [Singleton, 1994].
[Guédon, 1996] has provided an extremely elegant analysis of this process in the context of the advent of science disciplines, the fact that communication technologies are often used in ways unforeseen by their creators, and the organisation of knowledge.
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