Learn English – the origin of the “towards a new” used in the titles of some research articles



  • "Towards a new agenda for transforming war economies"
  • "Towards a new agenda for Japanese telecommunications"
  • "Towards a new age in the treatment of multiple myeloma"

As I mentioned in the comments, "It would be nice to know the initial use because it would give me some insight into the language and trends that either birthed the phrase or required its invention."

I ask out of curiosity. As a sub-question, are there any papers or books that cover the history and evolution of academic terminology and writing?

Best Answer

The earliest example I can discover of an academic work whose title included the phrase towards a new is George Berkeley's An essay towards a new theory of vision, published in 1709. However, this seems to be a general instance of 17th–19th century authors who started their publications with the phrase An essay towards.

For example, we have An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances, Thomas Bayes, 1763; An essay towards an history of dancing ... by John Weaver, 1712; An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, John Wilkins, 1668.

An essay, in its older sense, meant "an attempt to do something" (see Merriam-Webster, noun sense 2; and to "make an essay towards" something meant simply "to attempt to do or accomplish" it. For example, in an article about the completion of the Erie Canal titled Facts and Observations In Relation to the Origin and Completion of the Erie Canal, published by a John Rutherford or Rutherfurd in 1825, we see that "in the year 1785 the Legislature appropriated $135, to enable Mr. Colles to make an essay towards effecting the object [the removal of obstructions in the Mohawk River]."

It appears from this that the multiple titles starting "An Essay Towards ..." might be rephrased as "An Attempt To Create ..." (with the appropriate change from gerund to infinitive), and simply represent a common use of language.

The question, of course, becomes whether titling a work Toward[s] a ... is in fact an abbreviation of the older An essay towards a... . It seems the most reasonable assumption, but I don't know how one would go about assembling a proof.