The Work of the Societies

Scholars come together to form learned societies to produce and promote knowledge. Most scholarly societies have open membership; they include all who are interested and engaged in their mission and subject. Learned societies have been vitally important in setting standards of excellence in research, writing, and education.

The 78 learned societies that are members of ACLS are national or international organizations in the humanities and related social sciences. Each society is concerned with a distinct field of study, but all are involved in the promotion of research, scholarly publication, and education.

Learned societies are dedicated to publishing work in their disciplines or areas of study. They hold regular conferences at which members present and discuss their current research. Societies publish newsletters, magazines, and academic journals. These journals usually operate under the system of peer review, whereby an article is accepted for publication only after it has been read by experts in the field who confirm its value and attest to its having met the field’s standards of research; these readers often make suggestions for improvement before the article is published. Through this process, scholars collectively help establish a reliable body of research and knowledge. In addition, learned societies often award prizes for scholarship in their field of expertise. The websites of many learned societies are becoming portals to Internet resources concerning the society's scholarly focus.

Most learned societies are independent, not-for-profit organizations. They function as the professional organization for their members, serving as a forum to discuss matters of interest to their constituents and set professional and scholarly standards. Accordingly, many societies are involved not only in in intellectual concerns relevant to the disciplines or areas of study they represent but also in such issues as employment, professional ethics, and scholarly communication.

The executive directors of ACLS member societies meet as the Conference of Executive Officers. The CEO comes together semi-annually to address concerns common to all in the community of humanistic scholars, particularly those issues related to maintaining and improving conditions for research, education, and communication among the scholars. Prime examples of their work are the publications that ACLS produced on the creation of the NEH in 1965 and on its reauthorization in 1985 (see historical documents). Both documents consist of a short, collaborative report followed by individual statements of constituent societies, and both demonstrate the commitment of ACLS to advancing the humanities and related social sciences. The Internationalization of Scholarship and Scholarly Societies (ACLS Occasional Paper No. 28, 1995) represents another collective effort of ACLS member societies to examine issues of importance to the scholarly community. Among recent concerns are the digital humanities, open access, and globalization. For information on meetings and activities, see Conference of Executive Officers (CEO) Meetings.