September 20 — AAAS Founded (1848)

The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) was founded on September 20, 1848.  Since that time, it has grown to be the largest general scientific society in the world, serving 10 million people through 250 affiliated societies and individual memberships.

The AAAS evolved from the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, which had been founded a few years earlier.  The general field of geology, which then included much of what we now call natural resources and conservation, was important at the time, as the United States was exploring the far reaches of its western states and territories.  Scientists and explorers were dispatched widely, however, and contact among them was difficult.  This society sought to give them a way to share and compare their findings.

However, reflecting on the model of the British Association for the Advancement of Sciences, which was formed in 1831, AAAS quickly sought to become a more general scientific organization.  The new organization had a clear goal:

“By periodical and migratory meetings, to promote intercourse between those who are cultivating science in the different parts of the United States, to give a stronger and more general impulse, and a more systematic direction to scientific research in our country; and to procure for the labours of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.”

            The society grew steadily to about 2,000 members, notable among them Henry David Thoreau and ex-president Millard Fillmore.  But the organization virtually disappeared when the Civil War divided the country in 1861.  After the war, it was resurrected by the President of Columbia University, Frederick Barnard.

The journal, Science, was formed in 1880, but it struggled to gain readership and moved through several ownerships.  An agreement between its owner and AAAS in 1900 made it the official journal of the society.  Today, the journal has about 130,000 subscribers, but an estimated readership of about 750,000 through library holdings.  Along with Science, AAAS now publishers several other specialized journals and more general-interest magazines and digital offerings.

References:

AAAS.  150 Years of Advancing Sciences:  A History of AAAS; Origins:1848-1900.  Available at http://www.archives.aaas.org/exhibit/origins2.php.

AAAS.  150 Years of Advancing Science:  A History of AAAS (1848-1998).  Available at:  https://www.aaas.org/page/150-years-advancing-science-history-aaas-1848-1998.  Accessed September 19, 2017.

AAAS.  2016 Annual Report.  Available at:  http://annualreport.aaas.org/.  Accessed September 19, 2017.