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The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) is the principal professional association for independent scholars, who are researchers who do hold positions at universities or other academic institutions. NCIS supports the work of independent scholars worldwide, and its members and mission extend internationally. Although based in the United States, where it is registered as a non-profit, NCIS has members and affiliates in fifteen countries over five continents, including the US and Canada, Great Britain, Western and Eastern Europe, Australia, China and India.
NCIS represents independent scholars from all disciplines, including unaffiliated scholars, adjunct and part-time faculty, graduate students, research professionals, artists, and curators. NCIS enables scholars working in the arts, humanities, social science and STEM fields to access and share resources, such as library access, and support, which are typically unavailable to researchers who are not affiliated with a university or other institution.
NCIS offers benefits to its members to support their work as scholars. An issue of great concern to independent scholars is the lack of access to libraries and journals. NCIS helps to address this by offering its members access to JSTOR through a discounted JPASS subscription. NCIS also helps address the financial needs of independent scholarship through sponsoring grants, maintaining a grant and fellowship directory, and administering institutional, third-party grants to its members (for more information on grants, please see end of article). NCIS helps independent scholars to network with other scholars by offering discussion networks and facilitating the creation of local organizations of independent scholars and assisting existing local groups.
Another benefit of membership in NCIS is access to member-only information resources. For example, NCIS publishes a comprehensive library guide on its website, including access and collection information for public and university libraries in the United States. Other guides include a directory of Open Access Resources and a Directory of Grant Opportunities available to independent scholars. NCIS offers letters of introduction, personal web pages, NCIS email addresses, business cards, discounted professional editing and translation services under the NCIS.
NCIS offers two levels of membership: regular member and associate member, each with its own rights and benefits.
Regular members are active scholars who are pursuing knowledge in any field or discipline, but whose research is independent of, and not supported by, employment in an academic or research institution; this includes some graduate students and scholars retired from academic positions. The benefits include: access to the membership directory and discussion forum, voting as well as running for the Board and Executive Committee; listing in and access to the membership directory and database; eligibility for internal NCIS as well as NCIS-administered grants; attending NCIS events at a reduced registration cost. Life membership is provided on payment of the life fee, on condition that the member demonstrates evidence of independent scholarship as defined by NCIS (see below).
All applicants for regular membership are required to submit a CV, which is reviewed by the NCIS membership committee. The CV must demonstrate scholarship in a field through advanced degrees, and/or publications (preferably peer-reviewed), and/or presentations at academic conferences. The candidate's scholarship must not be affiliated with a particular university or institution's mission. A member can be associated with a university, but cannot be receiving financial compensation from the university for his/her independent studies.
Associate members are scholars who support the purposes of NCIS, but whose research is funded by an institution, thus disqualifying them as independent scholars. Associate members are eligible to receive an NCIS associate member card, attend NCIS conferences at a reduced fee determined by the Board, identify themselves publicly as an associate member of NCIS, receive NCIS communications, and upgrade associate membership by applying for regular membership.
NCIS recognizes regional and international affiliate members and is itself an affiliate of the American Historical Association. Affiliate members support the overall purpose of NCIS and meet membership criteria but establish their own membership qualifications and dues and manage their organizations independently of NCIS. Presidents of affiliated organizations can access the NCIS website members-only resources, including the Membership Directory. Members of affiliates are not automatically members of NCIS, but they are entitled to attend paid NCIS public events at a reduced cost and are invited to join NCIS. NCIS members are welcome to apply for membership in affiliates near where they live.
In the United States, the independent scholarship movement developed in the 1970s in response to the growing number of scholars who were not affiliated with an academic institution. Following the establishment of several early, regionally based independent scholars' societies such as The Institute for Research in History, the Princeton Research Forum, the Centre for Independent Studies, and the Alliance of Independent Scholars, the independent scholar community recognized the need for a national organization to represent independent scholars' interests on a national level.
In 1986, the San Diego Independent Scholars sponsored a national conference aimed at reaching a consensus for founding a national organization which would communicate with institutions such as federal funding agencies, foundations, and learned societies, to address issues of access to research funding, research facilities, and other resources, as well as to provide a forum for scholarly exchange. Conference attendees expressed the need for a national newsletter and, in 1987, the first issue of The Independent Scholar was published. The first Board of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars was elected in 1988, and the organization was officially incorporated in 1989.
Since the founding conference in 1987, NCIS has organized national conferences on the subject of independent scholarship in conjunction with Affiliate groups. Past conferences have included "Independent Scholars: Coming of Age", New York, 2004; "Selling Your Scholarship: Writing Marketable Non-fiction", Portland OR, 2005; and "Scholars Without Borders", Princeton, NJ, 2006. The 2015 conference, "Traditions & Transitions: Independent Scholars & the Digital Landscape" (New Haven, CT) also commemorated the organization's 25th anniversary.
In 1987, NCIS began publishing a print newsletter, The Independent Scholar, featuring articles by NCIS members, book reviews, announcements, and other news. In 2007 the publication switched to an open-access online platform. The final issue was published in 2014, when the online quarterly was retired and for a short time this was replaced by "TIS Blog". In 2015, however, NCIS inaugurated an annual, on-line, peer-reviewed journal entitled The Independent Scholar (TIS), a free open access journal through which the work of independent scholars is made available to a worldwide audience. The first issue (Dec. 2015) featured papers resulting from the 2015 NCIS conference at Yale, and subsequent general and themed volumes have since appeared regularly.
NCIS offers two internal grants and administers several external grants. The NCIS Conference Support Grant and the NCIS Research Grant are each offered twice a year. Members having a minimum of 18 months' continuous membership prior to application can apply for either of these grants.
In 2016 NCIS honored the late Professor Elizabeth Eisenstein by reviving the Elizabeth Eisenstein Essay Prize. The Prize is awarded for the best essay by an NCIS member, and the essay must have been published in a peer-reviewed journal or book within the previous two years. All Full or Associate members are eligible for the Prize, no matter how long they have been members.
Since October 2011, NCIS has also administered the Dorbrecht Grants and the Karp Grant, with funding from the Orphiflamme Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. The Dorbrecht and Karp grants are open to all Full and Associate members of NCIS.