The idea of a published journal with the purpose of "[letting] people know what is happening in the Republic of Letters" was first conceived by
Eudes de Mazerai in 1663. A publication titled Journal littéraire général was supposed to be published to fulfill that goal, but never was.
Denis de Salo, under the pseudonym "Sieur de Hédouville", took Mazerai's idea and obtained a royal privilege from King Louis XIV, granted to
Jean Cusson on 8 August 1664, to establish the Journal des sçavans. The journal's first issue was published on 5 January 1665. It was aimed at people of letters, and had four main objectives:
- review newly published major European books,
- publish the obituaries of famous people,
- report on discoveries in arts and science, and
- report on the proceedings and censures of both secular and ecclesiastical courts, as well as those of Universities both in France and outside.
Soon after, the Royal Society established Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in March 1665, and the Académie des Sciences established the Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences in 1666, which more strongly focused on scientific communications. By the end of the 18th century, nearly 500 such periodical had been published, the vast majority coming from Germany (304 periodicals), France (53), and England (34). Several of those publications however, and in particular the German journals, tended to be short lived (under 5 years). A.J. Meadows has estimated the proliferation of journal to reach 10,000 journals in 1950, and 71,000 in 1987. However, Michael Mabe warns that the estimates will vary depending on the definition of what exactly counts as a scholarly publication, but that the growth rate has been "remarkably consistent over time", with an average rates of 3.46% per year from 1800 to 2003.
Medical Essays and Observations was established by the Medical Society of Edinburgh as the first fully peer-reviewed journal. Peer review was introduced as an attempt to increase the quality and pertinence of submissions. Other important events in the history of academic journals include the establishment of Nature (1869) and Science (1880), the establishment of Postmodern Culture in 1990 as the first online-only journal, the foundation of arXiv in 1991 for the dissemination of preprints to be discussed prior to publication in a journal, and the establishment of PLOS One in 2006 as the first megajournal.