Skip to content

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.


Philosophical Transactions

Dates: 1802-1865

The 'Philosophical Transactions' collection is comprised of manuscript versions of papers published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the world’s longest continuously running journal dedicated to science.

by Vannis Rahi-Jones
Former cataloguer on Science in the Making

The periodical Philosophical Transactions was launched by the Royal Society’s first Secretary, Henry Oldenburg, in 1665. Papers published in the earliest issues of the journal appear in other archival collections held by the Society, 'Early Letters' and 'Classified Papers'. The set of volumes comprising the 'Philosophical Transactions' or PT archive includes draft versions of papers published in the journal between 1802 and 1865, excepting those papers published between 1825 and 1839.

The collection illustrates the Society’s publishing process throughout the early to mid-nineteenth century, with many manuscripts showing additions, deletions, and emendations by authors and editors, as well as preserving original artwork. The Society’s 'Referee Reports' series completes the picture by showing the textual peer-review process from the 1830s onward.

The manuscripts appearing in this collection contain the raw experimental results, meteorological data, astronomical calculations, and other evidence of the ground-breaking science conducted by published authors. The writings of many of the best-known scientists of the period are featured, including Sir John Herschel, Charles BabbageMary Somerville, John Tyndall, and Thomas Henry Huxley: often in major sequences of research, such as the electrical investigations of Michael Faraday

Notable scientists found within the 'Philosophical Transactions' series

'Philosophical Transactions' papers cover the standard scientific fields – chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physics – but also areas which would no longer likely be treated in a journal of ‘pure’ science, including actuarial thinking, archaeology, and anthropology – although less so than in previous archival sequences.

A particular highlight of the collectionis the journal’s original illustrations in diverse media including watercolour, ink, graphite, and other formats, as well as examples of early photography. Franz Bauer and William Clift both produced stunning watercolour illustrations of zoological and anatomical specimens, largely to accompany papers by British surgeon and prolific scientific author Sir Everard Home

Other surprises in the collection include scientific drawings by artists such as Ford Madox Brown and Sir Thomas Lawrence, both better known as fine art painters rather than as scientific illustrators.