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Cambridge Philosophical Society



Archives of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The Cambridge Philosophical Society was founded in 1819 on the initiative of Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873, geologist), John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861, botanist) and Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822, mineralogist). Its purpose was to promote scientific study at a time when little science was taught in the University of Cambridge, meeting fortnightly for the reading of papers and for discussion, Fellows of the Society being graduates of the University. Selected papers were published in the Society's Transactions and later in the Proceedings. A Reading Room was established very soon after the foundation.

Meetings for the first few months were held in the museum of the old Botanic Garden [on what was later to be the New Museums site] before moving in April 1820 to rented rooms above a shop in Sidney Street, facing up Jesus Lane.

The Society became a body corporate by virtue of a Royal Charter granted on 6 August 1832. From 1833 to 1865 the Society occupied its own house on All Saints Passage on land leased from St John's College. From 1865, the Society and its Library were housed in the new Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy on the University of Cambridge's New Museums Site, thus beginning the formal association of the Society with the University. In 1865 the Society's Museum was donated to the University and much of it formed the nucleus of the University's present Museum of Zoology.

In 1872, Associate membership was established in order to allow use of library facilities by graduate research students from other universities who were precluded from becoming Fellows.

In 1881, the Society's Library was opened to the whole University in return for which the University took financial responsibility for housing and staffing it. In 1967 the Library was renamed the Scientific Periodicals Library and in 1976 it became a dependent library of Cambridge University Library while retaining its links with the Society.

Meantime the Society and its Library had moved in 1935 to the Arts School off Bene't Street. During the 1920s and 1930s a revamp of the Society's programme of publications brought renewed prosperity. By the 1930s many meetings took the form of visits to places of interest within the University and beyond. Ultimately fortnightly meetings were replaced with evening lectures and symposia during the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, which are now open to all. Visits to research establishments of interest are still arranged each year.

The Society founded the William Hopkins Prize (for mathematical and physical sciences) in 1867 and the William Bate Hardy Prize (for biological sciences) in 1964. From the late 20th century the Society began awarding grants for research and travel.

This is a very condensed historical note, drawn chiefly from the archives and from published histories. For more detailed accounts of the Society's membership, premises, museum, library, publications etc see the headnotes to the relevant sections of the catalogue as well as the published histories.

The archives have been arranged largely by their function, eg constitutional records, Council records, financial records, membership records etc. Each section and sub-section is arranged broadly chronologically.

Further information
A history was published by the Society in 1969 to commemorate its 150th anniversary: see A Rupert Hall, 'The Cambridge Philosophical Society: A History 1819-1969'. An earlier history, entitled 'The Foundation and Early Years of the Society', is recorded in an address delivered to the Society by John Willis Clark on resigning office in October 1890: the address was published in Vol VII of the Proceedings of the Society in 1891.

The archives were catalogued by Joan Bullock-Anderson in 2015. The catalogue was commissioned by the Society in order to facilitate the compilation of a bicentenary history and also to ensure that its archives were adequately recorded in advance of the refurbishment of the Arts School building. The bicentenary history was published in 2019: Susannah Gibson, 'The Spirit of Enquiry: How One Extraordinary Society Shaped Modern Science', published by Oxford University Press.

Access arrangements: Access by appointment only.

CPS Archivist, Joan Bullock-Anderson
c/o Sedgwick Museum Archives, A G Brighton Building
Madingley Rise
Cambridge CB3 0UD

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