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Published on Sep 4, 2013
The formation of "learned societies" began in the mid 17th century and played a central role in the establishment and practice of modern science. I will explore the history and evolution of learned societies from the establishment of the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge in London in 1663 and the American Philosophical Society in in pre-revolutionary Philadelphia, to the emergence of the diverse "professional societies" of today. From their very inception as venues for conversation and presentation of new ideas, learned societies have played, and continue to play, essential roles in fostering scholarly interactions and communication, and in disseminating research. I will conclude by considering the future relevance of learned societies, including the BSA, in our increasingly digital age. Given that we can all upload our talks to YouTube, download publications instantaneously, and be in constant contact via multiple electronic means, why have we come to this meeting? And what does the future hold for learned societies such as the BSA?