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Archived Papers

Dates: 1768-1920

'Archived Papers' provides an insight into popular areas of scientific interest and scientific methods in the 19th and 20th centuries.

by Layla Hillsden
Cataloguer on Science in the Making

The collection known as 'Archived Papers' is composed of original, manuscript scientific papers and letters submitted to the Royal Society that are organised in a chronological sequence of volumes, and alphabetically by author within each volume. Generally, they either remained unpublished after their receipt, or they were abstracted in the Society's journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society after being read at a meeting of Fellows. Occasionally, short papers in the collection were published in full in the Society’s journals. By the 1940s, the focus of collecting of the 'Archived Papers' series had shifted towards appendices and datasets for papers published in the Philosophical Transactions or Proceedings.

Although most of the material in 'Archived Papers' failed the Royal Society’s internal quality tests, the series contains much of interest, as it can provide an insight into popular areas of scientific activity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Not all of the individual papers are insignificant: William Henry Fox Talbot’s early account of ‘photogenic drawing’ (photography) from 1839, is one of the key moments in Victorian technological innovation.

In this paper, Talbot describes how in spring 1834 he began to practice a method he had devised some time previously, for employing 'to purposes of utility the very curious property which has been long known to chemists to be possessed by the nitrate of silver: namely its discoloration when exposed to the violet rays of light'.

Elsewhere, the research papers of Frances Hoggan, one of the first British women to receive a doctorate in medicine, can be found in the collection. These two papers comprise some of Hoggan’s earliest research into lymphatics with her husband, George Hoggan.

In keeping with other Royal Society archives, the authors and subjects of the papers are not simply domestic, but international in scope. Andrew Wilson Baird’s 'Report on tidal disturbances caused by volcanic eruptions at Java 26th - 27th August 1883 and the propagations of the "supertidal" waves' provides an account of the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa between 26 and 27 August 1883. The event was a global phenomenon and one which prompted the Royal Society to produce an overarching and definitive contemporary report, compiled from witnesses around the globe.

Many papers are accompanied by diagrams and figures, including physiological, botanical and zoological drawings. Charles Swinhoe’s 1893 paper 'On the mimetic forms of certain butterflies of the genus Hypolimnas' has plates by fellow entomologist Frederic Moore, one of the finest illustrators of Asian lepidoptera.

The collection also features many international meteorological and astronomical observations from the nineteenth century, including Luke Howard’s  ‘Climate of London’ charts (1841). These beautiful and idiosyncratic visualisations of meteorological data cover the period from 1815 to 1832.

The breadth of topics covered, and the authors featured in the collection, highlight the Society’s position as a clearing house for scientific information from the eighteenth century to the twentieth. Even though most of the material in 'Archived Papers' never saw print, the Society was careful enough to preserve the papers within its archive (as the name suggests) so that Fellows and others might consult the material at its London home. 

These papers, alongside records of their critical reception in the 'Referees’ Reports' collection, provide insights into the editorial and publishing processes of the Royal Society.

Take, for instance, a draft of Charles Barrett Lockwood’s paper 'The early development of the pericardium, diaphragm and great veins' (1887), annotated throughout and marked on the cover page with 'Keep in archives - this is first edition'.

Referees’ reports indicate that reviewers found this paper ‘verbose and in places unclear,’ but suitable for publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society with revisions.

A version of the paper would finally be published in volume 179 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.