Broken Pieces of Fact: The Scientific Periodical and the Politics of Search in Nineteenth-Century France and Britain
The invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of fragments of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science.
John Ziman (1969)
If you constrain [a chemist] to present [his researches] as so many aphorisms, each detached one from the other, their value can be but imperfectly understood, and only the authority of the author’s name can provide confidence in the result – always an extremely dangerous situation in science.
Jean-Baptiste Biot (1842)
This dissertation begins with an account of how the scientific journal became the central site for representing certified public knowledge in the sciences over the course of the nineteenth century. I argue that, far from arising out of the internal needs of science for more secure and mobile communications media, the scientific journal became central to scientific life through broader changes in the political cultures of France and Britain that emerged out of the Revolutionary period. New commitments to the role of the public in conferring political legitimacy, the wider scope and power of the periodical press, and emerging legal frameworks of intellectual property compelled scientific groups to reimagine the grounds of their authority to make claims about the natural world. As scientific authority diffused out into the periodical press, scientists invested journals with functions for regulating and demarcating scientific value – related to certifying knowledge, adjudicating priority, and establishing professional credentials – that had once been the putative territory of scientific societies and academies. The second half of the dissertation follows French and British scientists in the decades after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) as they attempted to affirm their roles in their respective states’ efforts to compete with the industrial and political strength of the new German Empire. This again entailed reimagining forms of organization and strategies for representing consensus. In Britain, this was largely a struggle to centralize what they called the “machinery of science,” whereas in France the focus was on strategies of controlled decentralization and democratization. In both nations, however, the management of the scientific literature loomed large in these aims, as did one seemingly-modest problem: the literature search.
Submitted September 2010.
PART I: SCIENCE BY NUMBERS: THE RISE OF THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL, 1815-1870
Chapter 1. Inventing the Scientific Periodical
Managing Natural Knowledge in the Societies and Academies
Descent to Avernus: Knowledge goes to Press
Chapter 2. From Priority of Discovery to Priority of Publication
Priority as Evidence of Discovery
Print as Public Disclosure
Chapter 3. Distinguishing the Scientific Author
What is a Man of Science?
Counting what Counts
PART II: THE SEARCH FOR ORDER AND THE ORDER OF SEARCH, 1871-1914
Chapter 4. The Machinery of Scientific Periodicals
The Politics of the Literature Search
Michael Foster, Henry Armstrong, and the Journal as Discipline
In the Air or On the Page? Making Argon Public
Chapter 5. Solidarité and the Index Card
La Décentralisation Scientifique
Poincaré’s Catalogues: Conventions as Shared Classifications
Chapter 6. Archiving Science in Print at the Fin de Siècle
The Classifying Moment
Legislating an International Scientific Polity
Conclusion. The Impact of Journals
Detail from Cham, "Le grand format" in L'illustration (1846).