History

The first academy in Belgium was founded in 1772 by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The Imperial and Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters of Brussels was the imperial power's instrument for organising and controlling intellectual life in the Austrian Low Countries. This institution did not survive the French occupation of the Belgian regions. William I, king of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands since 1815, reinstituted the academy in 1816. It found its permanent place in the social order only after Belgium had become independent in 1830. In 1845 it acquired the title Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres, et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, and it was divided into three classes: science, humanities, and fine arts.

From its independence onward, Belgium was officially bilingual (Dutch/French), although French was preponderant in higher education. Therefore, the academy was primarily a French-speaking institution. Gradually, however, Dutch acquired an importance approaching that of French. In Flanders - the northern part of Belgium -, Dutch replaced French in higher education in the 1930s. The logical outcome was the creation in 1938 of the Dutch-language Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België. From then on the academy's function was to encourage science and arts in the Flemish part of the country while the Académie Royale continued to fulfil the same function in the French-speaking part of the country.

The early years of the new academy were not favourable since the outbreak of World War II put a brake on its activities. In 1945, however, a proper start could be made towards achieving its aims in the service of the Flemish community in Belgium. In 1988 the golden jubilee of the academy commemorated half a century of intellectual activity. This was expressed in more than 1,500 publications, in the organisation of many colloquia, and in the activities of its working committees.