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In 19th-century Britain, periodicals played a key role in introducing readers to new discoveries and inventions in science, technology and medicine, not merely through earnest scientific articles, but also through glancing asides in, for instance, fiction, poetry and news reports. Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical (Sci-Per) provides a fully searchable electronic index to explore sixteen 19th-century periodicals.
The Sci-Per Index has entries describing over 14,000 articles as well as references to more than 6,000 individuals and 2,500 publications. Overall Sci-Per provides an invaluable research tool for those interested in the representation of science, and the interpenetration of science and literature in the 19th-century, but also aims to change the way we understand how science was assimilated, debated and challenged.
Strengths and weaknesses
With many thousands of titles to chose from, any selection of 19th-century periodicals is inevitably partial. The periodicals chosen for inclusion in the SciPer Index are intended to reflect some of the broad phases in 19th-century periodical history. They include a number of titles which are characteristic of new periodical genres developed in the period, and cover a range of distinct periodical genres intended for widely differing audiences.
The index has been compiled by experienced 19th-century researchers, whose judgement in identifying non-trivial references, and in identifying the people, publications and institutions referred to, makes the finished product both more inclusive than conventional indexes, and more incisive than full-text searching. The index is highly detailed and includes not only the authors, titles and bibliographical details of articles but also references to people, institutions and publications mentioned, with, in many cases, a more extended description.
In order to identify relevant references, members of the Sci-Per research team read each periodical run in its entirety. The indexers sought to identify and index all material relating to natural knowledge and its applications, and to nature in general, which was deemed to be of particular relevance to the scientific enterprise in the period. All longer references of scientific relevance were indexed, but more selectivity was applied in indexing brief or passing references. Thus, where a passing reference of scientific relevance was similar in content to many longer references of the same period and journal, it was omitted, while a passing reference of a more unusual or novel nature was generally included.
About the project
The Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical project is jointly organised by the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies and the Department of English Literature at the University of Sheffield and the Division of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds. It is run under the aegis of the Humanities Research Institute of the University of Sheffield, and has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the Leverhulme Trust and the Modern Humanities Research Association.