The National Institute of Social Sciences has a rich history of recognizing the highest level of accomplishment, encouraging discussion, and supporting research.
The National Institute had its origins in the American Social Science Association, or ASSA, which itself grew out of two earlier organizations. In October 1865, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew chaired a meeting of some 300 public-spirited citizens that established the American Association for the Promotion of Social Science, modeled on the British Social Science Association, “to plan measures of public improvement.” The following year, the American Association for the Promotion of Social Science merged with the Boston Social Science Association to form the ASSA.
During the ASSA’s first decades, general interest in the social sciences evolved into academic professionalization, and ASSA helped foster the creation of the American Historical Association (1884), the American Economic Association (1885), the American Political Science Association (1903), and the American Sociological Association (1905).
In 1898, the ASSA created the National Institute of Arts and Letters, modeled after the Académie Française. In time, National Institute of Arts and Letters transformed into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1899, the ASSA was “constituted a corporation” by an Act of Congress, and in 1912, the ASSA created the National Institute of Social Sciences as a separate department.
In 1913, the Institute presented its first Gold Medals for Distinguished Service to Humanity. That year, the honorees were Archer M. Huntington, philanthropist and founder of the Hispanic Society of America; Samuel L. Parrish, lawyer, noted art collector, and museum founder; and William Howard Taft, who was concluding his term as 27th President of the United States.
Subsequently, the Institute emerged as an independent organization. Its early leadership encompassed many prominent ASSA members, including James B. Angell, president of the University of Michigan, Daniel Cott Gilman, the first president of the Johns Hopkins University, and Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell.
In 1926, by a second Act of Congress, the Institute assumed the ASSA federal charter “for the purpose of promoting studies and researches in the social sciences.” In the following decades, the Institute has remained true to this charge, presenting Gold Medals to distinguished honorees every year (except 1922) and establishing a vibrant branch in Palm Beach, Florida.
Since 2013, the Institute has sponsored an annual Seed Fund Program that provides financial support to graduate students in the social sciences during the final year of their doctoral research.