‘The American Council of Learned Societies was created in 1919 to represent the United States in the Union Académique Internationale (International Union of Academies). The founders of ACLS—representatives of 13 learned societies—were convinced that a federation of scholarly organizations, most with open membership but all dedicated to excellence in research, was the best possible combination of America’s democratic ethos and intellectual aspirations.’ ACLS states its mission as “the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of the humanities and social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of national societies dedicated to those studies.” You can read more about ACLS’s history here. In the letter of invitation (below) to the meeting that resulted in the establishment of ACLS, you’ll see the names of the 13 founding societies and the names of the earliest supporters of the organization.
One of the authors of the 1919 letter was Waldo G. Leland, who was also instrumental in helping to define and advocate for the archival profession (see, we’re making connections already!) Beginning in 1919 under a temporary title, then during his tenure as the Director, 1939-1948 and Executive Secretary, 1927-1939, Leland played a large part in organizing the records that comprise Part I of the collection housed at the Library.
For an archivist, this means that since 1919, the leadership of ACLS along with its 13 representative “learned societies” has generated a long material history represented in paper documents. And ACLS is still generating materials– only now they are in electronic and digital record formats. We collect paper records, but we are also collecting digital files to ensure that the organization’s operations are preserved and can be readily accessible to researchers.
Organizational records are the heart of an organization’s memory. And in this case, they tell the story of ACLS’s rich 94-year lifespan. These records can be used in 3 main ways:
- First, the documents created and collected tell the story of the organization’s growth and changes; gives voice to the daily operations of the people who have committed their lives to the organization’s mission. In a way, the records housed in this Collection can be seen as the organization (living, breathing) weaving its own oral testimony, a life history.
- Second, the records can also be viewed as primary evidence of the sustained efforts of an endeavor focused in “humanistic studies.” ACLS’s records, then, chronicle the shifts in the field of humanities and social sciences, the development of international networks, and the support of and contribution to innovative research and knowledge building.
- Third, these records illuminate the vital and demanding livelihood of non-profit ventures especially during wartime, depressions, and deficits. The mechanism of the non-profit model has a long history and ACLS is contributing a strong and unique chapter.