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Please be aware that some material may contain words, descriptions or illustrations which will not reflect current scientific understanding and may be considered in today's context inaccurate, unethical, offensive or distressing.


Proceedings Papers

Dates: 1882 - 1894

The archival collection known as 'Proceedings Papers' is comprised of manuscripts and occasional proofs of scientific papers sent to the Royal Society which were read before meetings of Fellows and printed in full in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. 

by Layla Hillsden
Cataloguer on Science in the Making

This series corresponds to material featured in volumes 33-56 of the printed publication. As it is currently undergoing digitisation, images for many of the volumes will be forthcoming. Currently volumes 1 - 21 are available online, with the remaining three volumes appearing as soon as they have been captured.

'Proceedings Papers' provides an insight into the editing and printing process of scientific papers submitted to the Society. Many manuscripts feature annotations and amendments in pencil and ink, as in the case of George F Dowdeswell’s ‘On rabies’, which was eventually published in volume 43 of the Proceedings.

Throughout the collection, manuscripts with figures include notes to the engraver regarding how the figures should be represented on the printed page.

In some cases, prints of the engraved figures have been retained and are included with the papers alongside the original hand-drawn figures.

The collection also highlights the interests of the Society and popular scientific topics of the late 19th century. William and Mary Huggins feature prominently throughout Proceedings Papers with their pioneering research into astronomical spectroscopy.

Spectroscopy is also investigated by George Downing Liveing and James Dewar, from the spectra of individual elements including carbon and magnesium to their proposal of ‘a new form of direct vision spectroscope’ in 1886.

Spectroscopy in the 'Proceedings Papers'

While chemistry and physics appear to dominate the collection, the biological sciences are represented through manuscripts on topics including pathology, morphology and embryology, including this 1882 paper by Alexander Fraser, 'On the inversion of the blastodermic layers in the rat and mouse'.

Palaeontology is also an area of interest: here, Harry Govier Seeley  presents figures of the proposed pelvic bone structures of Stegosauria, Ornithopoda, Theropoda and Sauropoda.

Manuscripts of the Bakerian Lectures for 1884, 1885, 1888, 1890, 1891 and 1893 are represented in 'Proceedings Papers', including Joseph Norman Lockyer’s ‘Suggestions on the classification of the various species of heavenly bodies’ which investigates the chemical spectra of heavenly bodies.

Lockyer would go on to present an appendix to his Bakerian Lecture the following year, ‘bringing together and co-ordinating as great a number of recorded observations as possible’ on the classification of heavenly bodies.

The collection features several appendices and responses to papers published in the Proceedings, occasionally highlighting disagreements between scientists, but also indicating the ongoing and often collaborative nature of scientific research and discovery. Here, Georg Hermann Quincke shares details of his own experiments into the dielectric constant in response to John Hopkinson's 'Note on specific inductive capacity'.

Collaborative science in the 'Proceedings Papers'

Elsewhere in the collection, A. Stroh follows up a paper on the invention of a new form of stereoscope with the acknowledgement that a 'paper [describing] the essential points of the apparatus' had been read to the Dublin Royal Society on 20 January 1879, seven years before the presentation of Stroh's paper to the Royal Society.

Alongside pioneering scientific research and collaborations, 'Proceedings Papers' contains some material which would be considered outdated or offensive by today’s standards. Daniel John Cunningham’s 1889 paper 'The spinal curvature in an Aboriginal Australian' features racist terminology in its descriptions of Aboriginal peoples. The paper’s subsequent publication in volume 45 of the Proceedings is indicative of the acceptance of a colonialist, Eurocentric viewpoint in nineteenth-century scientific publishing.

Paper, 'The spinal curvature in an Aboriginal Australian' by Daniel John Cunningham

Creator: Daniel John Cunningham Reference number: PP/13/31

'Proceedings Papers' does not contain the full manuscript for every paper published in volumes 33-56 of the Proceedings. Eighty-seven papers are unaccounted for within the collection, together with some illustrative material. This is likely due to material being left with the printer or engraver or to being otherwise misplaced during the publishing process.

This unaccounted-for material is identified as ‘wanting’ in a table of contents (or box list) for each volume worth of material in the collection.