Department of History of Science and Ideas

Publications, Priority, and Defining the Scientific Community

Berzelius and the Royal Academy of Sciences 1800–1848

Project Description

What is a scientific publication and why was this question so important in the early 19th century? Scientists did not agree how scientific results should be published, in terms of language or medium. At the same time, publications and establishing priority of discovery were increasingly important to scientists seeking positions in schools and universities.

The famous Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779–1848) participated in many priority disputes in his field, and also engaged in institutional reforms, in launching scientific journals, and in trying to set a standard for proper scientific publication. In this project, I will use Berzelius’ practices and pronouncements on publication to study norms of scientific communication in a period of institutional change. I argue that Berzelius’ view is a particularly revealing one: an international figure in chemistry, publishing mainly in Swedish, and wielding his power through translations and international disciples.

The purpose of the project is threefold. First, to shed light on the development of the scientific journal as a medium, and modern norms of publication. Second, to contribute to the discussion of publication practices as an integral part of the “great transformation” of scientific institutions in the early 19th century. Third, Berzelius’ particular problems of communicating with a wide chemical community from his peripheral position demonstrate the importance of a transnational perspective on these developments.

This is an individual project conducted within the research programme “Science and modernization in Sweden: An institutional approach to historicizing the knowledge society”, funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and hosted by the Center for the History of Science at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. For more information, see this page.

(Picture: French translation of Årsberättelser om framstegen i fysik och kemi by J.J. Berzelius, Source: Nancy Fjällbrant, 1994)

Picture: French translation of Årsberättelser om framstegen i fysik och kemi by J.J. Berzelius, Source: Nancy Fjällbrant, 1994

About the Project

Project Duration



The Marianne och Marcus Wallenberg Foundation