Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Evolution of the Allied Social Science Associations

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Evolution of the Allied Social Science Associations

Article excerpt

The Allied Social Science Associations, which had its beginnings in the 1930s, is today perhaps the largest group of economics associations in the world. More than 8,000 economists participated in the most recent meetings in January 2008, in New Orleans. Papers were presented in 499 sessions sponsored by 53 associations. In addition to these sessions, 243 events took place, such as sponsored breakfasts, luncheons, alumni gatherings, business meetings, and award celebrations. The ASSA meetings, which are held each year in early January, are the most important gathering of professional economists in the world.

These meetings of allied economics associations can be traced to the early 1900s, and the ASSA had evolved by the late 1930s into an organization similar to what it is today. The purpose of this paper is to trace that evolution from the beginnings, from the creation of the American Social Science Association in 1865 to the founding of the American Economic Association in 1885 to the emergence of the Allied Social Science Associations in the late 1930s. The history of the American Economic Association has been well documented by A. W. Coats (Coats 1960, 1964, 1969, 1985), and William J. Barber has documented the beginnings of the American Social Science Association and the early history of the AEA (Barber 2001). The history and the evolution of the Allied Social Science Associations, however, has not been documented, and although its evolution and its identity is closely tied to that of the AEA, the ASSA has developed and emerged into an organization in its own right over the past 60 or so years and plays an important role in the interactions among the various economic associations.

I

From the American Social Science Association to the AEA

THE AMERICAN SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION, founded in 1865 by a group of Boston-based social reformers, was the first organization in the United States to proclaim the study of economic problems as part of its mission. It was from this organization that the American Economic Association (1885), the American Historical Association (1884), the American Political Science Association (1903), and the American Sociological Society (1905) were founded. The records of this original ASSA are housed in the archives of the Yale University Library. The Manuscripts and Archives Department received these records from the Yale University Law School in 1989 after the Yale law librarian found them in a trunk in the law school basement. How these records came to be in the Yale Law School is not entirely clear. (1) For purposes of clarity, the American Social Science Association will be referred to here as ASSA-1.

Prominent social reformers and intellectuals in the Boston area were sent a letter from the Massachusetts Board of Charities asking them to form an American organization similar to the British Social Science Association, with the purpose of understanding and improving a rapidly changing society. This organization, according to the letter, would discuss:

   those questions relating to the Sanitary Condition of the people,
   the Relief, Employment and Education of the Poor, the Prevention of
   Crime, the Amelioration of the Criminal Law, the Discipline of
   Prisons, the Remedial Treatment of the Insane, and those numerous
   maters of statistical and philanthropic interest which are included
   under the general head of "social science." (letter circulated by
   Massachusetts Board of Charities, Guide to American Social Science
   Association Records: 2)

The association was structured into four departments: Education; Public Health; Jurisprudence; and Economy, Trade, and Finance.

The leadership of these four departments was built on existing professional specializations. Doctors chaired the health department, lawyers chaired the jurisprudence department, and college professors led the education department. …

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