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The society was established in 1945 or 1946. It claims to be among the oldest "international single-author societies". Its primary publication is Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, issued three times per year.
The society has formed a cultural project in collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the host of the Melville Society Archive, and has an editorial office at Hofstra University. It meets primarily at the American Literature Association and Modern Language Association annual conferences. It has also held a number of international meetings.
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