In the digital age, technological change and evolving scholarly practices have transformed the ways in which university faculty communicate their work. In the twenty-first century, the scholarly communication system is a complex social mechanism encompassing publishers, peer-reviewers, tenure committees, and many other actors. Journals have a long history dating perhaps as far back as the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1665. The first American scientific journal, however, has a much shorter history. One could possibly date American scientific journals back as far as 1745 with the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, a journal dedicated to all knowledge and founded by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Over time, however, Franklin’s journal was rather localized and competed with other local scientific journals in cities such as New York and Boston. It was not until 70 years later with the American Journal of Science, founded by Benjamin Silliman of Yale University in 1819 that the United States had a journal that was both consistently published and dedicated only to science.
There was, however, another important element to the networking of scholarship beyond the journal during in late nineteenth-century America: the professional association. Therefore, by looking not only at journals and the ways that they form in nineteenth-century America, but also at the formation of professional associations and the ways that such associations affect journals, one can begin to understand the complex network of scholarly communication, and perhaps think about ways that the current professional network may need to develop.
Early leaders of professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believed that science needed organization in order to protect itself from charlatans and the public who did not have the ability to practice the field that they wished to foster in the United States. Furthermore, rather than have a broadly distributed and federated structure of science, these early leaders created a very aristocratic form of science in some ways mimicking their European counterparts, but in other ways attempting to safeguard pure science from the potential pitfalls of having members of the public diluting the truth. Finally, these leaders of ACS and AAAS tied the discoveries of their profession and the work of the universities that employed them to the United States’ perceived need to meet the knowledge requirements of a rapidly developing industry.
What does all of this mean for science both in the nineteenth century and today? At a time when science is again organizing in order to meet the perceived threats of enemies, it may be good to think about why the modern system of scientific professions formed. Fundamentally, science in the nineteenth century was built by a small number of people in order to meet the needs of a new industrial nation. Though that system certainly evolved over time, one might argue that some of the characteristics of nineteenth century scientific professionalization still exist today. The question is whether science, its professions, and its universities need to reform to meet different needs in the twenty-first century.