The purpose of The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters is to promote scholarship by arranging lecture meetings, demonstrations and debates on scholarly topics; by disseminating scholarly knowledge to the general public; by supporting scholarly projects, financially or otherwise; by honouring and rewarding services to scholarship; by publishing scholarly papers; by keeping contact with academies abroad and by international collaboration.
The Society was founded in 1760 by Bishop Johan Ernst Gunnerus, Gerhard Schøning, a headmaster, and Councillor of State Peter Friderich Suhm under the name Det Trondhiemske Selskab (the Trondheim Society). It received the Royal Affirmation of its statutes in 1767 and was named Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab (the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters). It was simultaneously granted seals.
The Society was particularly active in its first 50 years, holding meetings and publishing a number of works. A library was established from the start, and natural history and archaeological collections began to be amassed. Well-known scholars from home and abroad were elected as members.
A less active period followed, but the adoption of new statutes in 1874 signalled a period of renewed vigour. 1902 saw a new revision of the Society’s statutes, including the annulment of a clause stating that members had to possess an academic qualification. The Society became in effect a museum society focusing on the museum and the library.
In 1926, the annual general meeting agreed to reorganise the scientific activities. The statutes regarding ordinary activities were once again revised and new ones introduced to pave the way for a scientific academy with elected members holding academic qualifications and reflect the needs of the scientific institution, the Museum, with its collections and library. Since 1926, the Society has therefore consisted of two sections, the Academy with its elected members and a separate elected board, and the Museum with its collections and library run by a board. Following another revision of the statutes, 2002 has seen the election of a joint board to run both the Academy and the Foundation, but the two sections continue to function as separate entities.
On January 1, 2010 the Academy has 666 members, 527 of whom are domiciled in Norway. The objective of the Academy is to promote the sciences, and its members are divided into two Divisions, Letters and Sciences. The Academy has also a number of honorary members and associated members.
The Museum became part of the University of Trondheim in 1968, and in 1984 the formal ownership of its collections, properties and library was transferred to the Government. The Society’s Foundation, with its legacies, funds and properties administered by the board, survives unchanged.
Hans Midbøe: Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab. 2 Vols. Trondheim 1960
Olaus Schmidt: Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab. Matrikkel 1760-1960. Trondheim 1960. 184 pp.