Establishment of the Academy

The Australian Academy of the Humanities was established by Royal Charter in 1969, to advance knowledge of, and the pursuit of excellence in, the humanities.

It succeeded the Australian Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which was convened informally in 1954 through the combined efforts of Dr Brian R. Elliott and Professor A.N. Jeffares, who organised preliminary meetings in Melbourne of delegates drawn from the Faculties of Arts in Australian universities. A constitution was adopted, instituting a provisional Council ‘to promote and disseminate knowledge of the Humanities and declare their value to the community’. This body, led by Professor A.D. Trendall and Dr A. Grenfell Price, sought support from the government, and received an annual grant of £4,000 placing it on a similar basis to the Australian Academy of Science and the Social Science Research Council. The first formal meeting of the AHRC was held in Canberra in 1956. A draft constitution was approved, committees established, and twenty-six foundation members elected with Professor Trendall serving as first Chairman.

The AHRC was a positive force in education and scholarship, and its activities gradually evolved, especially in its support for national projects in the humanities. Recognition among the AHRC executive of the changing functions of the Council led in 1967 to the proposal of establishing an Academy. This was upheld at the Annual General Meeting and confirmed by ballot in January 1968. A draft petition and charter (prepared by J.J. Auchmuty, J.T. Burke, R.M. Crawford, Ursula Hoff, A.G. Mitchell, D.H. Pike, A. Grenfell Price, G.H. Russell, R.H. Samuel, K.V. Sinclair and A.D. Trendall) were sent to the Prime Minister’s Department for approval, then forwarded to Her Majesty the Queen.

Royal consent was granted to the petition on 25 June 1969, and Letters Patent issued, constituting the Academy from that date. The Academy’s Foundation Fellows were the members of its antecedent, the AHRC. The text of the Charter, with the related Privy Council Minute, was published in the Commonwealth Gazette, no. 75, on 18 September 1969. (For the text of the Charter, see By-Laws and Royal Charter).

The highest distinction in scholarship in the humanities was required of candidates for election to the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. The first intake comprising sixteen Fellows (including Geoffrey Blainey, Kenneth Inglis, John Mulvaney, David Monro, Franz Philipp, Saiyid Rizvi, Oskar Spate and Judith Wright) and one Honorary Fellow (J. C. Beaglehole) were elected by the fifty-one Foundation Fellows at a Special General Meeting on 20-21 September 1969.

Annual elections have taken place since that time. A list of office bearers of the Academy is at right.

For an account of the debates and efforts that led to the establishment of the Academy, see Graeme Davison's article in the inaugural edition of Humanities Australia: 'Phoenix Rising: The Academy and the Humanities in 1969' [.pdf 504KB].


1969–1971 Emeritus Professsor Sir Keith Hancock
1971–1974 Emeritus Professor Sir Joseph Burke
1974–1977 Emeritus Professor J.A. Passmore
1977–1980 Emeritus Professor B.W. Smith
1980–1983 Professor Wang Gungwu
1983–1986 Professor G.A. Wilkes
1986–1989 Professor S.A. Wurm
1989–1992 Professor G.E.O Schulz
1992–1995 Professor D.M. Schreuder
1995–1998 Professor M.B. Clunies Ross
1998–2001 Professor M.G.W Gillies
2001–2004 Professor I.D. McCalman
2004–2007 Professor G. Turner
2007–2009 Professor I.E. Donaldson
2009–2011 Professor J. Lo Bianco
2011–2014 Emeritus Professor L. Johnson
2014– Professor J. Fitzgerald


1969–1971 Professor K.V. Sinclair
1971–1972 Professor D.H. Pike
1973–1974 Dr F.J. West
1974–1976 Dr F.B. Smith
1976–1981 Professor E. Kamenka
1981–1988 Professor J.P. Hardy
1988–1989 Professor F.C. Jackson
1989–1996 Professor D.J. Mulvaney
1996–2000 Professor P.R.C. Weaver
2000–2014 Professor G.W. Clarke
2014– Emeritus Professor E. Minchin


1969–1971 Professor D.H. Pike
1971–1972 Professor K.V. Sinclair
1973–1974 Professor W. Milgate
1973–1974 Dr F.B. Smith
1974–1983 Professor R.W.V. Elliott
1984–1994 Professor G.W. Clarke
1995–1996 Professor R.W.V. Elliott
1996–2002 Dr A. Kumar
2002–2006 Professor S. Cunningham
2006–2010 Professor M.J.C. Finnane
2010–2013 Professor P. Sharpe
2013– Professor R. Waterhouse
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