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A learned society (also known as a scholarly society or academic association) is an organization that exists to promote an academic discipline or profession, or a group of related disciplines or professions. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification, or may be an honor conferred by election. This is the case with the oldest learned societies, such as the Polish Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana (founded 1488), the Italian Accademia dei Lincei (founded 1603), the Académie Française (founded 1635), the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (founded 1652), the Royal Society of London (founded 1660)or the French Academy of Sciences(founded 1666).
Most learned societies are non-profit organizations. Their activities typically include holding regular conferences for the presentation and discussion of new research results and publishing or sponsoring academic journals in their discipline. Some also act as professional bodies, regulating the activities of their members in the public interest or the collective interest of the membership.
Learned societies are of key importance in the sociology of science, and their formation assists in the emergence and development of new disciplines or professions.
Societies can be very general in nature, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specific to a given discipline, such as the Modern Language Association, or specific to a given area of study, such as the Royal Entomological Society.
Most are either specific to a particular country (though they generally include some members from other countries as well), often with local branches, or are international, such as the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) or the Regional Studies Association, in which case they often have national branches. But many are local, such as the Massachusetts Medical Society, the publishers of the internationally known New England Journal of Medicine.
Some societies offer membership to those who have an interest in a particular subject or discipline, provided they pay their membership fees. Older and more academic/professional societies may offer associateships and/or fellowships to those who are appropriately qualified by honoris causa, or by submission of a portfolio of work or an original thesis. A benefit of membership may be discounted subscription rates for the publications of the society. Many of these societies award post-nominal letters to their memberships.
Online Academic Communities
Following the globalization and the development of information technology, in addition to established academic associations, have been also organized academic virtual communities that in some cases became even more important platform for interaction and scientific collaborations among researchers and faculty than traditional scholarly societies. Members of these online academic communities, grouped by areas of interests, use for their communication shared and dedicated listservs (for example JISCMail), social networking services (like Facebook, Linkedin) and academic oriented social networks (like Mendeley, Academia.edu).
- "The Environmental Studies Association of Canada - What is a Learned Society?". Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- "Learned societies & academies". Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- Scholarly Societies Project from the University of Waterloo Libraries—database of hundreds of scholarly societies in various fields, including some of the oldest societies
- Eclectica, virtual exhibit on the history of Canadian learned societies.