Intellectual historians use the phrase "the organization of knowledge" to refer to the institutional and social structures within which scholarship operates. Prominent among these structures are learned societies, which play a vitalizing role in American academia precisely because they are essentially voluntary organizations. That is their great strength, though it is also a vulnerability. The vulnerability of learned societies was the question that prompted our Boise retreat in 2001. Would these organizations, founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, thrive in the 21st? At its 2001 retreat, the CAO attempted to answer that question by focusing on the organizational aspects of the learned society enterprise.
The retreat schedule is available here.
At the 2007 Salt Lake City retreat, the CAO considered how societies and ACLS have shaped the intellectual domains that they claim. What changes, they asked, have new scholarly currents required of learned societies individually and as a collectivity? What are the roles played by learned societies in the complex ecology of American higher education, where individual scholars have plural identities as teachers, researchers, disciplinary specialists, transdisciplinary explorers, authors, and readers? Societies have relations with their members; with the departments where their members work and the colleges and universities that house those departments; with publishers; with funders; and with the libraries, museums, archives, and collections that form the infrastructure of humanities scholarship.
Robert C. Post of Yale University, delivering the retreat's keynote address, analyzed the importance of disciplinary authority and solidarity as the foundation for the principle of academic freedom. Most of the retreat's proceedings were panels composed of CAO members themselves, who compared the practices and problems of their societies in reponse to the following questions:
- What is the specific role of the executive in promoting scholarship and the society's mission?
- How do societies shape humanities scholarship through relations with members?
- How is your society structured to ensure fair and effective peer review?
- How is your society effectively engaging the public in promoting your mission?
- How do societies shape humanities scholarship through relations with other societies?
- How do societies shape humanities scholarship through relations with the academy?
Alumni of the CAO—Anne Betteridge, former executive director of the Middle East Studies Association; Elaine Martin, former executive director of the American Comparative Literature Association; and ACLS president emeritus Stanley N. Katz—concluded the retreat by commenting on the proceedings as friendly but critical observers.
The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau graciously hosted the visit. Retreat sessions were held at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center and the Hotel Monaco, where CAO members were lodged. Group members enjoyed dinner at three of the city's top restaurants and at the top of Rice-Eccles Stadium, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics ceremonies. Post-retreat activities included a Mormon Tabernacle Choir's live radio broadcast and a trip to the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort and Conference Center, where the indulgences included deep-tissue massages and the view at 11,000 feet.