Our History

Our History

The Commons is a nonprofit network that enables scholars, researchers, practitioners, teachers, and students to create a professional profile, discuss common interests, develop new publications, and share their work. The Commons network is open to anyone, regardless of field, language, institutional affiliation, or form of employment. Full-featured accounts are and will remain free for individual users; the network is sustained by the financial contributions of participating organizations.

The Commons was founded as and will remain an academy-owned and governed project, designed to serve the needs of scholars, writers, researchers, and students as they engage in teaching and research projects that benefit the larger community. Unlike other social and academic networks online, the Commons is open access, open source, and nonprofit. It is focused on providing a space to discuss, share, and store cutting-edge research and innovative pedagogy—not on generating profits from users’ intellectual and personal data.

The Commons launched in December 2016 as a pilot project of the office of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association. Its development was made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the pilot was designed to explore whether four partner societies — the MLA; the Association for Jewish Studies; the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; and the College Art Association — could benefit from shared infrastructure for member-to-member communication, collaboration, and public engagement. Since that pilot, additional organizations have joined the network, including the Association of University Presses and the Society of Architectural Historians.

In November 2020, the fiscal sponsorship and hosting of Humanities Commons moved to Michigan State University, where the network is developed and maintained by members of the MESH Research team. Additionally, MSU became the first institutional member to join the network in 2020, launching MSU Commons to serve its campus community.

The social networking features of Humanities Commons are built on the open-source Commons In A Box platform, developed by the City University of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center. The network also features an open-access repository, the Commons Open Repository Exchange, or CORE. CORE allows users to preserve their research and increase its reach by sharing it across disciplinary, institutional, and geographic boundaries. Developed in partnership with Columbia University’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, CORE’s development was supported by generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities.

Additional support for the Commons at MSU has been provided through a DFI grant from the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. Long-term support for the Commons has been greatly assisted by an Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.