When we talk about scholarly communication, we are almost always talking of the future. If we do look to the past it is to a canonical work. In the sciences today, we begin almost every discussion of the scholarly communications with the first edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, published in 1665, before proceeding to move past this and show that nothing (or everything) has changed. I will argue that if we are to understand the origins of scholarly communication in the sciences we need to look past the object to the community and the values that defined it.
In the writings of Robert Boyle, we find guidance on the proper modes of scientific conduct and communication that might appear in a graduate training book today, but which are rarely realised in practice. Data sharing, open criticism and open experimentation all form a core part of the program of natural philosophy promoted by Boyle. If those values were truly realised in the 1660s it was because the community was small, exclusive and homogenous. Over the past 350 years those values were weakened and lost as scaling issues made them impractical. Do the internet and the web offer a solution to these problems? And if so, how can we develop communities and infrastructures that combine the best of the values of the early Royal Society with our more modern values of diversity, inclusion and equality?