societies, learned and literary, associations of individuals with a common professional interest, intended to promote learning. Many societies publish the proceedings of their meetings as well as journals, reports, and outstanding investigations by their members. They often award prizes, encourage or subsidize research, and maintain libraries.
A forerunner of the modern society was the Museum, founded c.300 B.C. in Alexandria by Ptolemy I. The earliest important medieval society was established by Charlemagne under the guidance of Alcuin. Learned societies of the modern type originated in Italy as literary academies during the revival of classical learning. The short-lived Accademia Platonica, founded in the 15th cent. by Cosimo de' Medici, served as a model. The most widely known extant society of the early period is the Accademia della Crusca, founded (1582) in Florence and several times reorganized. The Accademia Secretorum Naturae (Naples, c.1560) is believed to have been the earliest scientific society.
Outstanding among European societies are the French Academy (1635), now a section of the Institut de France; the Royal Society (1662); the Prussian Academy of Sciences, founded by Frederick I in 1700 as the Societas Regia Scientarum; and the Russian Academy of Sciences, founded at St. Petersburg in 1725. Many countries have national academies, councils, or institutes. Among them are the Royal Canadian Institute (1849), the Indian Academy of Sciences (1934), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (1949), the Science Council of Japan (1949), the Polish Academy of Sciences (1952), the Australian Academy of Science (1954), the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (1959), and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities (1959). Local and regional societies have also flourished.
Many societies cover a broad field, among them the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1831), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1847), the National Academy of Sciences (established in 1863 by the U.S. Congress), the American Philosophical Society (incorporated under its present name in 1769), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (chartered in 1780 in Boston). However, the specialization of knowledge has resulted in the establishment of literary, historical, archaeological, and scientific societies covering very restricted fields. The specialization of fields and the geographical distribution of societies necessitate methods of coordination including informal cooperation and formal affiliations, as in the American Medical Association (1847), in which local medical organizations are represented.
See K. O. Murra, ed., International Scientific Organizations (1962); Directory of Selected Scientific Institutions in the U.S.S.R. (1963); Scientific and Learned Societies of Great Britain (61st ed. 1964).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.