While 1887 is probably best known for being Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year, it was also the year Annals of Botany was founded, making it the oldest continuously published botanical title of the present day. The Journal celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2012 and, to mark this milestone, Mike Jackson has written a history of the Journal. It is based on sizeable quantities of hitherto neglected letters, Minutes, accounts etc., that miraculously survived numerous office removals and a confessedly casual approach to good record-keeping by the 19th Century luminaries who started Annals of Botany. The history is now out in two parts, each bursting with numerous portraits, images and performance graphs.
I asked Mike about his motivation for embarking on his exploration of the long-forgotten dust-laden wilderness of the AoB archives and what he believes it brings of value to present-day botanists: “You could be forgiven for thinking that a written history of a venerable botanical journal such as Annals of Botany would be as dry as dust and irrelevant today’s online-addicted plant biologist. However, if you recognise that history has lessons to teach us, and if you’re curious about how such a journal ever gets started, acquires its name and keeps going through good times and bad, you will probably enjoy delving into these articles. I’ve not only catalogued major management decisions but also explored the character and background of some of the great British botanists of the past (including Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Sir Isaac Bayley-Balfour, Sydney Howard Vines, Sir Francis Darwin, Sir Arthur George Tansley, Jack Heslop-Harrison) and how they collaborated and sometimes fell-out over how best to run things.”
The archive of old papers and letters that are the basis for Mike’s articles are now conserved and catalogued at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew (search the archive for Annals of Botany). They reveal extensive wranglings over naming the Journal, financing it, dealing with setbacks arising from two world wars and how best to meet strong competition from younger journals. One particularly notable early event was the creation, in 1903, of the ‘Annals of Botany Company’. Mike, who became a member of the company in 1996, reflects on its mission: “The Company’s founding remit, as the legal owner of Annals of Botany was, and remains, to manage the Journal for the general benefit of botanical science on a not-for-profit basis. A welcome contrast with the publishing behemoths that own most of our science journals!”
Mike would like to think that the past carries valuable lessons for modern plant scientists. “One key principle that emerges is never let a good crisis go to waste! Another is to try and not fall-out with your PhD supervisor in later life. This happened with two of the Journal’s founding editors, with the fallout serving the fledgling journal a near-fatal blow.”
Despite the numerous challenges faced by Annals of Botany over its long history and the ever-changing expectations, interests and geographical spread of authors and readers, the 125th anniversary saw Annals of Botany enjoying unprecedented popularity. This encouraged the Company to start AoB PLANTS (https://academic.oup.com/aobpla) an on-line only open access journal (now seven years-old) and, of course, the AOBBlog. Although the start of any new year encourages us to look forward rather than backwards, I recommend taking a look at ‘One hundred and twenty-five years of the Annals of Botany Part I and Part II’. These interesting and content-rich accounts make surprisingly good reading.
Mike Jackson, is an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Bristol (UK) and formerly Professor of Plant Stress Biology at the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands). He has been involved with Annals of Botany since 1988, first as a member of the Editorial Board and later as a member of the Annals of Botany Company (1996-present day), as Chief Editor of Annals of Botany (1996-2008) and as the first Chief Editor of AoB PLANTS (2009-2012).