Historical Societies

Historical Societies


voluntary national and local associations of historians, both professional and amateur. Most historical societies consider their primary tasks to be the study of national or local history, the collection and publication of sources, the preparation and publication of printed works (including methodological aids on the teaching of history), and the popularization of historical knowledge. Some historical societies are engaged in a broader range of questions, such as the study of world history and its individual problems, historiography, and the methodology of history. Historical societies, especially national ones, promote the coordination of work in the historical sciences.

National historical societies unite numerous local and specialized historical societies. They often represent the historians of their countries in the corresponding international organizations, particularly in the International Committee for the Historical Sciences.

The first historical societies were formed in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, usually as societies of “lovers of antiquity.” Their growth was especially rapid in the first half of the 19th century, in connection with the revival of interest in history accompanying the growth of bourgeois-nationalistic consciousness, the strengthening of national states, and the development of scientific methods of historical research. In the 19th and 20th centuries the historical societies have been active on a grand scale. They publish a large number of historical source documents, put out their own periodicals, and hold congresses.

The American Historical Association, which was founded in 1884, is the most important and influential of the contemporary historical societies of the capitalist countries. It has 16,000 members, including historians of other countries, especially Canada and Latin America. The Historical Association in Great Britain was founded in 1906. The Society of the History of France, founded in 1834, and the Society for the Study of History, founded in 1833, concentrate mainly on medieval history. Among the most influential French historical societies occupied with other periods of history are the Society of Modern History, founded in 1901, and the Society of Robespierrist Studies, founded in 1907. Other societies include the Union of German Historical and Archaeological Societies in the Federal Republic of Germany, founded in 1852, and the Danish Historical Society, founded in 1839. Historical societies developed in Asia and North Africa in the first half of the 20th century, including the Indian Society of Historians, founded in 1910, and the Turkish Historical Society, founded in 1931. The Historical Society of Japan was founded in 1889. Historical societies were established in African countries south of the Sahara after World War II; among these is the Historical Society of Ghana, founded in 1952. The oldest and most important historical societies in foreign socialist countries are the Polish Historical Society, founded in 1886, and the Hungarian Historical Society, founded in 1867. They have local sections working on local history. These societies are guided by the methodology of Marxism-Leninism.


Historical Study in the West. New York, 1968.


Pre-Revolutionary Russia and the USSR. The first historical society in Russia was the Arkhangel’sk Society for Historical Research, founded by V. V. Krestinin in 1759. There were 15 historical societies in the prereform period (before 1861), including the Moscow Society of History and Russian Antiquity of Moscow University (1804), the Odessa Society of History and Antiquity (1839), and the Russian Archaeological Society in St. Petersburg (1846). The most important historical societies that arose in Russia in the second half of the 19th century were the Moscow Archaeological Society (1864), the Russian Historical Society in St. Petersburg (1866), the Historical Society of Nestor the Chronicler, in Kiev (1872), the Society of Archaeology, History, and Ethnography, at the University of Kazan (1878), and the Historical Society of St. Petersburg University (1889). More than 120 historical societies were functioning in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Their activity was strictly regulated by the government authorities. They were funded mainly by membership fees and incidental contributions. Professional historians, teachers, and local-lore students worked in the historical societies. The societies were engaged mainly in archaeology or in ancient periods of Russian history. Local history was studied mainly by the historical societies of Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, and Siberia. The activity of the historical societies expanded during the postreform period (after 1861). They collected materials on history, archaeology, ethnography, numismatics, and art. Research on local lore and customs increased. Church-archaeological societies were created.

These historical societies for the most part did not concern themselves with theoretical questions. Progressive, and especially radical, scholars, were very weakly represented in the historical societies. However, publishing work, as well as the protection of historical artifacts and monuments and the creation of museums, objectively helped to expand the number of sources for study and furthered recruitment of the local intelligentsia to scholarly work. Public lectures and open meetings of the historical societies had social significance.

The Great October Socialist Revolution marked the beginning of the reconstruction of the entire network of institutions of historical scholarship. New historical societies were created in the 1920’s. The Society of Marxist Historians was founded in Moscow in 1925; it had over 40 divisions in other cities and approximately 1,200 members. There were 1,688 organizations of local lore, with approximately 100,000 members in 1927. A society of Marxist students of local lore arose in 1930, and the Central Scientific Research Institute of Methods of Work in Local Lore began work in 1932. The journal Kraevedenie (Study of Local Lore) began publication in 1923. It was renamed Izvestiia Tsentral’nogo biuro kraevedeniia (Proceedings of the Central Bureau of the Study of Local Lore) in 1925 and Sovetskoe kraevedenie (Soviet Study of Local Lore) in 1930. Congresses and conferences were held. At the end of the 1930’s historical societies for the study of local lore were replaced by circles working in regional and district museums of local lore. Several societies for the study of local lore began to operate again in the 1940’s. They became especially active from the mid-1950’s and are now operating in many republics of the Soviet Union. There are associations of the scholarly community (sections, circles, councils) at historical, local lore, and memorial museums. There are numerous sections of the history of the revolutionary movement, of veterans of the Civil and of the Great Patriotic wars, and of veterans of socialist construction. The All-Russian Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture was founded in July 1965. Analogous societies work in the Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, Georgian SSR, Kirghiz SSR, and other Union republics. The societies study and publicize historical monuments and artifacts, and they participate in the preparation of materials for the List of Monuments and Artifacts of History and Culture.


Istoriia istoricheskoi nauki v SSSR: Dooktiabr’skii period—Bibliografiia. Moscow, 1965. Pages 133–44.


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