ACLS History E-Book Project
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Participating ACLS Learned Societies
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American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)

American Council of Learned Societies
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6795
Tel: 212-697-1505

History and Mission

The American Council of Learned Societies was established in 1919 to represent the United States within the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) (International Union of Academies) "to encourage cooperation in the advancement of studies through collaborative research and publications in those branches of learning promoted by the academies and institutions represented in the UAI-philology, archaeology, history, the moral, political and social sciences." The ACLS has represented the nation in the UAI with distinction for more than 80 years. Membership in the American Council of Learned Societies is restricted to organizations. Membership now totals 68 societies.

The mission of the ACLS, as set forth in its constitution, is to "advance humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the Humanities and the related social sciences and to maintain and strengthen relations among the national societies devoted to such studies."

As the preeminent representative of humanities scholarship in the United States, the ACLS has developed and administered numerous specific programs that have served the interests of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences in general, of individual scholars, and of the nation. Central to the ACLS throughout its history have been its programs of fellowships and grants in aid of research in the humanities and related social sciences. Other core activities include the preparation of tools of research, publication of the results of research—the American National Biography is a conspicuous example—and planning committees and conferences to stimulate research. The range of activities through its history has included the development of language-training materials; bringing international scholarly conferences to the United States; the development of area studies; creating the National Advisory Commission on Libraries; curriculum development and teacher education on the secondary-school level.

The ACLS, as the most broadly based organization representing scholars as scholars rather than as specialists in particular fields, is well-positioned to serve as advocate on behalf of the scholarly humanities in public fora and policy arenas. The Council's critical role in helping to establish (in 1964) and to reauthorize (in 1985) the National Endowment for the Humanities is perhaps the most notable example of its exercise of this function.

Today the ACLS is active in strengthening relations among the learned societies and in encouraging the establishment of learned societies, such as the Medieval Academy of America, the Renaissance Society of America, the Far Eastern Association (now the Association for Asian Studies), the American Studies Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, and the Council on the Study of Religion. The ACLS has been one of the founders and supporters of the National Humanities Alliance and of the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH).

The ACLS Publications Programs

The ACLS has in the past conducted a survey of publication needs, established a publication service to advise scholars on inexpensive ways to communicate research, and aided scholars through its fellowship programs and by direct publication. ACLS committees have also planned and established journals, such as Speculum and the Journal of the History of Ideas, which continue to make notable contributions to scholarship. Among the ACLS's own publications, the best known is the well-used reference work, The Dictionary of American Biography, begun in 1921. A successor work, The American National Biography, was published in print (1999) and electronically (2000). Also important is The Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB), with articles on important scientists from antiquity to modern times. A third major reference work, The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, was completed in 1989. A condensed edition entitled The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students was published in 1996. In addition to these reference works, other publications of major importance to scholarship sponsored by ACLS include the publication of a critical and definitive edition of The Works of William James and the ongoing preparation and publication of The Correspondence of William James and The Correspondence of Charles Darwin.

Scholarly Communication and Technology

Since the introduction of computers and other new forms of technology for research in the humanities and social sciences, the ACLS has played a major role in helping scholars explore the impact of new technologies on their fields. Beginning in 1964 it developed an innovative program of grants and fellowships designed to encourage new and significant use of the computer in humanistic research. The ACLS also worked with scholars to find specific ways in which the high-speed processing capabilities of computers could be harnessed to meet the scholar's traditional need for better research tools, such as bibliographies, indexes, and concordances. The ACLS operated an Office of Scholarly Communication and Technology, with headquarters in Washington, DC, from 1984 through 1987. In 2006 ACLS launched its Digital Innovation Fellowship, and in 2007 ACLS released the final version of Our Cultural Commonwealth: The report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Humanities E-Book thus finds its place among the core missions of the ACLS.

For information on current activities, see the ACLS website at

rev. 2/14/07

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ACLS Humanities E-Book
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