Scholarly Societies 


Editorial, 2009, December 2:
Ten Years of the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies
The Origin of the Inventory

The Founding Initial I, Ornaten 1999 the Editor of the Scholarly Societies Project created a sub-project entitled the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies (Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum). The purpose of the Inventory was to gather information pertaining to scholarly societies that was likely to be of special interest to historians. Pages were therefore created for each of several hundred scholarly societies founded prior to 1850.
The Central Role of the Scholarly Record From the beginning, these history pages placed heavy emphasis on the scholarly record (a source of endless beguilement to librarians and bibliographers) as expressed through the collective writings, primarily the journals, of the oldest scholarly societies.
Abbreviations of the Journal Titles One of the most entertaining aspects of interpreting bibliographic records or references to the older literature is the astonishing creativity of authors and editors in abbreviating the journal titles of scholarly societies. For an elderly librarian/bibliographer like myself, deciphering some of these beauties is like solving a particularly cunning cryptic crossword puzzle.

As it happens, not all scholars share this enthusiasm, so it was decided to include information on journal-title abbreviations for the various journals of individual scholarly societies.

Epoch 1: The Early Stages of Development
Creating a Richer Chronological Listing Initial I, Ornate n the early years of the larger Project of which this is a part, the Scholarly Societies Project, a chronological listing of all societies in the Project had been created. In 1999, when the sub-project entitled the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies (Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum) was begun, the first task was to create a more comprehensive listing of the oldest scholarly soicieties as the basis for the Inventory. Various tools and techniques were used to identify additional old societies for inclusion.

Initially, the inventory was confined to societies founded up to 1799; eventually this was expanded to include societies founded up to 1849. Before very long, the inventory contained a chronological listing of over 500 scholarly societies, many of them still in existence. Each entry in the inventory included the founding date of the society, the cessation date (if applicable), and name changes of the society over the years.

Adding Basic History Pages for Entries Once a good chronological inventory had been established, the task of creating basic history pages for individual entries began. At first the goal was to provide minimal historical information about the society iteself, and also bibliographic information about the major journals of the society. If journal-title abbreviations for the journals were already available in the card files that I had compiled years earlier from the esteemed Reuss Repertorium, or were readily available from the volumes of the RSLC, those journal-title abbreviations were added to the appropriate places in the history page.
Epoch 2: The Initial Enhancements
Enhancing the Minimal Historical Information Initial E, Ornate ventually it became clear that some societies needed particular attention in order to explicate the sequence of name changes that they underwent over the years. Athough problems of this nature were particularly notable in the French societies because of the frequent political upheavals from about 1792 to 1870 in France, they were by no means confined to that country. As a consequence, it was necessary to consult printed histories of some of the societies. Most of the tools consulted are listed in that section of the Inventory whimsically entitled The Elaboratory Laid Open: Materials and Tools (Elaboratorium Apertum: Materia et Armamenta); see especially the sections named Historical Monographs and Historical Articles or Papers .
Adding to the Collection of Journal-Title Abbreviations As mentioned in Editorial, 2006, October 5: Using JSTOR as a Source of Journal-Title Abbreviations, for the first several years of the existence of the Inventory, the abbreviations were drawn exclusively from indexes of the journal literature, such as the Reuss Repertorium and the Royal Society of London Catalogue of Scientific Papers.
Abbreviations Found in the Journals Themselves In the Summer of 2005, it occurred to the Editor that it might be possible to document the journal-title abbreviations used in the literature itself by using a large searchable archive like JSTOR.

Further background information may found in The Problem of Early Journal-Title Abbreviations.

Creating Parallel XML code for History Pages In the Spring of 2006, the Editor began creating new history pages exclusively in XML code (using a format specially created for the history pages), and then using that XML code to create HTML code that could be installed in the Inventory. The new display uses a different colour scheme and somewhat different formatting, making it obvious to the initiated (at least the Editor) whether a page has associated XML code or not.

Shortly therafter, work on creating parallel XML code for existing HTML history pages was begun. This has been rather slow work. Even after three years only about 135 of the 427 history pages are currently available in parallel XML format. The hope is that once all the history pages have XML versions, it will be possible to set up a sophisticated database on the entire corpus.

Epoch 3: Beginning to Mine the JSTOR Richesse
A Wealth of Journal-Title Abbreviations Initial I, Ornate t is difficult to convey the dazzling array of journal-title abbreviations to be found in a source like JSTOR without giving an example. Since the greatest proportion by far of the journal-title abbreviations in the Inventory have in fact been extracted from JSTOR, it may suffice to point the reader at one of the files in the composite index, for example: the abbreviations beginning with the letter A, which are found at: Abbreviations of Journal Titles Published by Societies Founded from 1323 to 1849 : A. If one overlooks the entries whose sources are labelled Reuss or RSLC, the remainder is drawn almost entirely from the JSTOR archive!
Extracting the Abbreviations The process of extracting these abbreviations and inserting them in their proper settings is rather complex and laborious. The interested reader is referred to Editorial, 2006, October 5: Using JSTOR as a Source of Journal-Title Abbreviations .
An Embarras de Richesse? In fact the process is so laborious that it has occurred to me more than once that the JSTOR Richesse might perhaps more appropriately be termed an Embarras de Richesse. The bounty sometimes seems truly overwhelming.
Epoch 4: Toiling in the Caverns
Dealing with the Problematic Cases Initial S, Ornate ince retiring from active duty as a librarian a couple of years ago, I have taken to dealing with some of the problematic history pages in the Inventory. I refer here principally to the history pages for societies whose journals have been highly cited in the literature, but with an absolutely astonishing variety of journal-title abbreviations. I had set them aside initially, since I knew they would take a considerable amount of effort.
The German-Language Academies The major German-language academies are perfect exemplars of this kind of problem. From April 1 to May 20 of this year I updated the history page for Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (founded 1700); the page went from 40K to 131K in the process. From May 20 to Sept. 1 of this year, I did the same with Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig (founded 1846); the page went from 45K to 200K in the process. Beginning Sept. 1 of this year I began the same process with Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Munich (founded 1759); the page began at 24K and now stands at 125K, and the process is far from complete.
The Gnome Question Yes, this work is tiresome and slow. And yes, I do occasionally wonder how long it will be before I start looking like one of those gnomes one sees in Harry Potter films, all wizened and beady-eyed. But then I think to myself: well, some people do crossword puzzles to keep the mind resilient in their twilight years; and other do needlepoint to keep the fingers nimble and stave off arthritis. This work would seem to aid in both those endeavours. And there are surely worse fates than being a quick-witted, nimble-fingered gnome.

And in the end, this is also a gift to the future - when fewer scholars are likely to be accomplished in interpreting the arcane bibliographic inscriptions that form a distinctive feature of the scholarly record from the 17th to 20th centuries.


Published 2009, December 2
Jim Parrott, Editor
Scholarly Societies Project, and
Repertorium Veterrimarum Societatum Litterariarum
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