Learned Societies

Learned Societies, a term applied in Canada to the large group of scholarly organizations that hold conferences annually from late May to mid-June at a different university location each year. Society members come not only to hear and discuss scholarly papers on the latest work in their fields, but also to renew contacts and share common concerns.

The gathering of these associations in one place over one period is distinctively Canadian and owes more to practical evolution than to planning power. Selecting one site with suitable university accommodation was an answer to Canadian distance that allowed scholars more economical joint arrangements, let them attend meetings of societies besides their own, and encouraged them to visit varied geographical areas.

The older ROYAL SOCIETY opened the way by moving from its Ottawa base to annual conferences at Montréal, Kingston or Toronto. Younger, more specialized associations - such as those in history, political science and economics - joined in, holding their own meetings along with, or just following, the senior scholarly society. By the 1930s the practice of holding an annual learned-conference period at a different site each year was well established, though such sites were usually in central Canada, where most larger universities were located. But in 1949 "the Learneds" went to Halifax, and soon afterwards to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Since then the growth of large universities across the country and the multiplication of learned societies - from the Assn of Canadian Archivists to the Canadian Linguistic Association, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs to the Association for Canadian Theatre History - have provided still more locations and a greater range of meetings for the organizations of Canadian scholarship.