Natural Knowledge, Inc.: the Royal Society as a metropolitan corporation

British Journal for the History of Science 52 (2):249-271 (2019)
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Abstract

This article attempts to think through the logic and distinctiveness of the early Royal Society's position as a metropolitan knowledge community and chartered corporation, and the links between these aspects of its being. Among the knowledge communities of Restoration London it is one of the best known and most studied, but also one of the least typical and in many respects one of the least coherent. It was also quite unlike the chartered corporations of the City of London, exercising almost none of their ordinary functions and being granted very limited power and few responsibilities. I explore the society's imaginative and material engagements with longer-established corporate bodies, institutions and knowledge communities, and show how those encounters repeatedly reshaped the early society's internal organization, outward conduct and self-understanding. Building on fundamental work by Michael Hunter, Adrian Johns, Lisa Jardine and Jim Bennett, and new archival evidence, I examine the importance of the city to the society's foundational rhetoric and the shifting orientation of its search for patronage, the development of its charter, and how it learned to interpret the limits and possibilities of its privileges through its encounters with other chartered bodies, emphasizing the contingent nature of its early development.

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