Publication Date

April 1, 1995

Last October the American Council of Learned Societies () held a special conference on the internationalization of scholarship. The conference allowed the and its member societies to discuss the current state of international scholarship, and to considernew ways to promote the internationalization of scholarship in the future. More than a hundred scholars from disciplines in the humanities and social sciences participated in the conference. The reported the findings of the conference and the retreat in the winter/spring issue of the Newsletter. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the report.


  1. The conference strongly reaffirmed the importance of scholarship that increases our understanding of particular cultures and human communities across the world. Such scholarship must be take into account the language, history, culture, and social and political organization of the cultures studied. We need a steadier, more even attention to the world, one that is less subject to the fluctuations of interest caused by foreign policy issues, economic opportunities, or other causes.
  2. With the end of the Cold War, some—but not all—barriers to international scholarly access and communication have been removed. At the same time, new barriers have emerged. There are, for example, parts of the world where it is unsafe to travel and where religious fundamentalism restricts scholarly access. There is nonetheless a great deal of excitement as scholars take advantage of fresh opportunities for international exchange and collaboration.
  3. There is increasing convergence among ways of organizing knowledge and scholarship across national boundaries. For better or for worse, the organization of disciplines in the United States is becoming increasingly common abroad. We can also discern increasing interest in interdisciplinary work around the world. This appears to be an especially fruitful time for interdisciplinary work between the humanities and the social sciences.
  4. Electronic means of communication are increasingly important for scholars. The uneven dissemination of new technology is, however, leaving behind some parts of the world and some scholars. And even though electronic communication is clearly important, we must recognize that it is a complement to, not a substitute for, significant fieldwork allowing exposure to other cultures.
  5. In response to fiscal pressures, scholarly libraries in the United Stales have decreased their acquisitions of materials from abroad. This is a serious problem.
  6. English has emerged as a de facto international language; its widespread use underscores the importance of scholarly training in and attention to the world's other languages.
  7. Learned societies and other organizations serving scholars have become increasingly active in promoting internationalization of scholarship.
  8. Overall, it appears that opportunities for international scholarship have increased significantly, yet resources that enable scholars to take advantage of these opportunities have decreased.

Agenda for the Future

  1. We need to articulate a fresh rationale for scholarship on areas of the world beyond U.S. borders. We have been relying on perspectives and justifications that have become outdated or less compelling. The world has changed in important ways; we need to show how and why international scholarship can be important in these new circumstances.
  2. International scholarship needs to become more central to the academic disciplines. Such scholarship may be less peripheral today than it was in the past, but there is progress to be made. The question of how disciplines relate to area knowledge is something that needs continuing attention. Also deserving attention is how we promote work drawing on more than one discipline.
  3. We need to develop a coordinated national strategy to encourage language training and to make sure that we have the competence to understand all the world's cultures. This will probably involve a more deliberate division of responsibility among American colleges and universities, but we should also rely on partnerships with universities in other countries in developing this strategy.
  4. We need to recognize the continuing importance of international scholarly exchange programs. We need to rethink these exchange programs in light of new opportunities for access, and new needs for international scholarship.
  5. We need to develop strategies to make sure that the new electronic technology is accessible to scholars across the globe, and compatible across borders and disciplines.
  6. We need a coordinated, distributed approach to gathering and making available library and information resources from foreign countries. Electronic technology makes such a strategy possible. The explosion of available materials and the increasingly severe constraints on resources make such a strategy necessary.
  7. We also need to work toward digitizing and networking the cultural heritages of all the world's peoples. This will be a large but important undertaking for education and for research.

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