Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 18:22

NCIS Mission & History

NCIS Mission & History


NCIS was formed in January 1989 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation to facilitate the work of independent scholars. Its overall mission is to serve the interests of independent scholars in relation to scholarly associations, funding agencies, publishers, editors, academic institutions and libraries.

NCIS seeks to:

  • Improve access to research libraries and institutions for independent scholars.
  • Offer independent scholars information and advice about grants, fellowships, and publishing.
  • Offer benefits specific to the needs of independent scholars.
  • Encourage foundations and institutes to open competitions to independent scholars and to include them on review committees.
  • Encourage the inclusion of independent scholars in professional organizations as Board members and Officers.
  • Encourage the inclusion of independent scholars in journal and book publishing editorial boards and as peer readers and reviewers.
  • Promote conferences and workshops.
  • Offer grants and other financial assistance to NCIS members and Affiliates.
  • Encourage information exchange through publications and electronic communication.
  • Provide a sense of community in which independent scholars can exchange scholarly interests and expertise.
  • Serve as financial administrator for members applying for grants from other institutions.
  • Aid organizations of independent scholars by collecting and sharing organization experience and by publicizing their work.
  • Provide information for the creation of local organizations of independent scholars.


NCIS members are scholars whose research, unlike that of full-time faculty, is not supported by an institution. Membership is open to independent scholars from all disciplines. Applicants are required to submit a CV demonstrating a record of scholarly publications and/or conference presentations. The vast majority of NCIS members hold advanced degrees, and while NCIS does not require advanced degrees, it expects applicants to show they are actively carrying out work of scholarly merit. NCIS affiliate members are made up of regional and international independent scholars’ organizations. NCIS is led by a volunteer Board of Directors, elected from NCIS membership.


It is the policy of NCIS not to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, ancestry, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, veteran status, political service or affiliation, color, religion, or national origin. In addition, the officers, directors, committee members and persons served by this corporation are selected entirely on a non-discriminatory basis, without consideration of anyone's age, sex, race, religion or sexual orientation.


Although independent scholars have participated in learned societies for centuries, associations specifically oriented toward extra-academic scholars appear to have originated the mid-1970s in the United States. During that decade, the rapid expansion and then contraction of U.S. higher education led to the displacement of many new doctoral graduates from academia. Others became independent scholars after retiring from professorships or leaving tenured positions to devote more time to research. Even among independent scholars who initially planned to join academia full time, many were reluctant to return. 

Several groups were formed to accommodate those who had left or chose not to join academia. The Institute for Research in History, founded in New York in 1976, was likely the first group of independent scholars to organize. The next was the Center for Independent Study in New Haven (est. 1977), followed by the Princeton Research Forum, the Institute for Historical Study in San Francisco, and the Alliance of Independent Scholars in Massachusetts in 1980.

The movement also benefited from the work of Ronald Gross, a scholar from New York State. In 1982, Gross published The Independent Scholar's Handbook, which received widespread attention. Several new groups began in the early 1980s, including the San Diego Independent Scholars and the Northwest Independent Scholars Association (1982); the Independent Scholars Association of the North Carolina Triangle and the Five College Associates in Amherst (1983); and the Association of Independent Historians of Art (1984). Several remaining organizations are NCIS affiliated members. 


In 1986, San Diego Independent Scholars sponsored a national conference where members discussed challenges facing independent scholars that could be better resolved through a central organization, one that would connect with national-level organizations such as the federal government, foundations, and professional societies. Moreover, a national organization would facilitate networking among independent scholars and connect them with local groups. Following the conference, a committee was formed to investigate the issue further, concluding with the recommendation to create a national organization. Elections to the first board took place in the summer of 1988, and NCIS launched in 1989.


NCIS advocates on members’ behalf to bring them well-deserved recognition for their scholarship, and we campaign for equal access to scholarly resources such as libraries, online journals, and technology.

To address independent scholars’ lack of access to libraries, NCIS asks disciplinary societies to urge their members to request their academic institutions to provide library privileges, including interlibrary loan privileges, to unaffiliated or unemployed fellow members.

NCIS also acts as a grant administrator. Increasingly, grant funding agencies deal exclusively with other institutions, not with individuals, a practice that excludes many independent scholars. As a not-for-profit organization, NCIS can act as fiscal administrator of grants, accepting agency funds on the member’s behalf and then dispersing those funds to the member.

Online resource access is a critical issue for independent scholars, and we offer an NCIS member discount to JSTOR, one of the largest journal archives. We continue to advocate for access to academic libraries equal to that of the institution's own faculty, and for extension of privileges to visiting independent scholars. These avenues of access will permit our members to use the latest technologies for research in institutional libraries and archives, including remote access from their home offices. Further, publishers and foundations are responding to our advocacy, and many journals now accept NCIS membership as affiliation.

Our significant benefits package provides independent scholars with the professional support that comes with institutional affiliation. NCIS constantly adapts to best meet the changing needs of scholars in the twenty-first century.

* The above text was adapted (2014) by Janet Wasserman and Klara Seddon from Margaret DeLacey, “A History of NCIS” (reprinted with permission from The Council of Chairs Newsletter, Issue 46, August 1995).


  • October 25, 1987
    San Diego, CA: Founding conference
  • December 1987
    Institute for Historical Study, Oakland CA: "Scholarship for Love and Money" (regional conference)
  • March 28, 1988: Center for Independent Study, New Haven CT (regional conference)
  • April 7, 1990: Cambridge, MA
    “Women Mystery Story Writers” (one-day conference co-sponsored by NCIS)
  • April 23-25 1993: Chevy Chase, MD
    “Independent Scholars in the 1990s: Intellectual and Practical Issues” (first official NCIS conference)
  • October 21-23, 1994: Oakland, CA
    “Independent Scholars: Finding an Audience”
  • May 3-5, 1996: Princeton, NJ
    “Situating Scholarship”
  • October 18, 1997: San Francisco, CA
    "The Scholarly Imperative: What Inspires Independent Scholars?" (one-day conference).
  • October 2-4, 1998: St. Paul, MN
    "The Future of Scholarship: Independent?"
  • October 27-29, 2000: Raleigh, NC
    “Independent Scholars: the Public Intellectuals of the Future”
  • October 4-6, 2002: Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • October 15-17, 2004: New York, NY
    “Independent Scholars: Coming of Age”
  • October 8, 2005: Portland OR
    “Selling Your Scholarship: Writing Marketable Non-fiction” (one-day conference).
  • June 16-18, 2006: Princeton, NJ
    “Scholars Without Borders.”
  • October 25-26, 2008: Berkeley, CA
  • June 18-21, 2015: Yale, New Haven, CT
    “Traditions and Transitions: Independent Scholars and the Digital Landscape.” 
  • June 21-23, 2019: University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA
    "Making Connections, Meeting Challenges" (celebrating 30 years of NCIS).

Planning is now under way for an international conference in England (2021). 

Contact us

National Coalition of Independent Scholars