The Mississippi Historical Society (MHS) was organized in Jackson on November 9, 1858, under the scholarly leadership of B. L. C. Wailes, but survived less than two years. Reorganization efforts, beginning in 1890, bore fruit eight years later at the University of Mississippi under the leadership of Franklin L. Riley, professor of history. Dr. Riley would go on to edit fourteen volumes of the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.
In 1902, MHS led the way in persuading the Mississippi legislature to create the Department of Archives and History, and the executive committee of MHS’s board of directors became the department’s first board of trustees. The Journal of Mississippi History, a scholarly publication, was begun in 1939 and is published by MDAH in cooperation with the Mississippi Historical Society. MHS members receive the Journal as a benefit of membership.
MHS, which became dormant in the 1920s, was reactivated in 1952 and has held annual meetings since 1953. In 1964, MHS brought back into print J. F. H. Claiborne’s Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State, long a collector’s item. Since the publication of that classic, MHS has taken an active role in producing significant books on the history of the state.
In 1973, MDAH, in cooperation with MHS, the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University and College Press of Mississippi, published the first comprehensive history of Mississippi in fifty years, a two-volume set entitled A History of Mississippi, edited by R. A. McLemore.
In 1987, MHS, guided by the Department’s Publications Committee, sponsored the first popular illustrated history of the state, Mississippi: An Illustrated History, written by Edward Akin and published by Windsor Publishing Company. In 2002, this volume was revised and updated by Charles C. Bolton.
In 1992, MHS announced the establishment of a major book series spanning the history of Mississippi. The Heritage of Mississippi Series, published jointly by MDAH, the Mississippi Historical Society, and the University Press of Mississippi, with funding assistance from the Phil Hardin Foundation, covers the history of the state in fifteen volumes as part of the celebration of Mississippi’s bicentennial. The goal is to publish fifteen books, each covering an important subject or era. The books are written for a broad audience of scholars, teachers, students, and interested general readers.
Seven books have been published in the series: Art in Mississippi, 1720-1980 by Patti Carr Black (1998); Religion in Mississippi by Randy J. Sparks (2001); Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi after Reconstruction, 1877-1917 by Stephen Cresswell (2006); Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front by Timothy B. Smith (2010); The Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and Battles by Michael B. Ballard (2011); Mississippi’s American Indians by James F. Barnett, Jr. (2012); and A Literary History of Mississippi edited by Lorie Watkins (2017). MHS plans to publish additional books in the series with the following proposed titles: A Borrowed Land: Colonial Mississippi; From Bondage to Freedom: Slavery in Mississippi, 1690-1865; From Frontier to Secession: Mississippi, 1840–1861; From Hope to Heartbreak: Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow; The Struggle for Civil Rights; and Mississippi in the Twentieth Century: an Economic History.
For more than a century, MHS has provided programs and produced books, maps, brochures, and other materials aimed towards the education of the general public. Annual meetings provide distinguished speakers, tours of historic sites, and special events. MHS provides annual grants to help support Mississippi History Day for junior high and senior high school students. MHS also purchases trading buttons for Mississippi students to take to National History Day each summer at the University of Maryland.
MHS is qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization under the Internal Revenue Code, pursuant to Internal Revenue Service regulations.