The Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities was established on July 1st, 1846 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, on the initiative of prominent Leipzig professors, among them the mathematician and philosopher Wilhelm Drobisch. It was named at that time the Royal Saxon Society of the Sciences (Königlich Sächsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften). Its establishment was in keeping with the tradition of ideas already developed around 1700 by Leibniz and the mathematician Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus, though with differing proposals, and presented at the time to the Saxony Elector Friedrich August. Since the creation of the Free State of Saxony in 1919, the Academy has borne its present name. After World War Two, the Academy was reopened in 1948, headed by its President, the prominent linguist Theodor Frings. Since that time, the area covered for full membership includes the states of Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. During the years of the German Democratic Republic, the Academy sought to preserve its independence, largely thanks to its President, the electrochemist Kurt Schwabe, despite increasing ideological dependence on the central Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin.

The Free State of Saxony pledges itself in its Constitution, adopted by the Saxon General Assembly on May 27th, 1992, Art. 121 “as the sponsoring agency of the Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities." A law passed on May 30, 1994 restructured the Academy legally as a corporate body under public law. At its session on October 14th, 1994, the Plenum of the Academy adopted a corresponding set of bylaws, signed by its then President, Prof. Günter Haase, on November 18th, 1994. The Saxon Academy is represented by a President. The Plenum of full members elects him for a four-year term in office, and he can be reelected to serve one additional term. He is assisted in the Board of Regents, the Presidium of the Academy, by the Vice-President, the secretaries of the three Classes and their deputies, and the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is the chief executive officer, heads the administration of the Academy, oversees its affairs and is responsible for the budget.

In accordance with its bylaws, the Saxon Academy is an association of scholars with the purpose of serving the public good by furthering the sciences, extending and deepening scientific knowledge through research, stimulating and fostering scientific investigations and projects. It is structured in three equal Classes: the Mathematical-Natural Sciences Class, the Philological-Historical Class and the Class of Engineering Sciences. The first two Classes have existed since the founding of the Academy, and the third commenced its work on May 10th, 1996. The Society of Scholars currently has 138 full members and 77 corresponding members. The full members meet as a rule once a month for Class and Plenum sessions where they discuss questions of organization, and in particular give presentations detailing their research findings and examine these in an interdisciplinary dialogue.

The lectures are traditionally published in the Proceedings (Sitzungsberichte) of the Academy. The Academy has another publication series, the Abhandlungen, where authors who are not Academy members may also publish. There is also a biennial Yearbook/Jahrbuch. With its Proceedings, Abhandlungen and Yearbooks, the Academy exchanges publications with scientific institutions throughout the world. The publications exchanged in return are deposited following a long established tradition in the Main Library of the University of Leipzig. The Academy also publishes a series Sources and Studies on the History of Saxony (Quellen und Forschungen zur sächsischen Geschichte), founded by its Historical Commission in 1963, and continued from 1999 by a specially appointed editorial board. Appearing at irregular intervals, the series publishes basic studies on the history of Saxony.

Since 1992, the Saxon Academy has been a member of the Conference of Scientific Academies (since 1999, Union of Academies) in which the eight academies of sciences in Germany have joined hands. The Union represents the academies internationally and coordinates the approximately 150 long-term projects which constitute the German Academy Program. This program is financed jointly, 50-50, by the competent federal ministry and by the respective constituent state where the project is located. At the present time, 25 of these projects are connected with the Saxon Academy.

About 70 researchers are active in the framework of the projects. Each of the projects is headed by a full member of the Academy. Every project is assigned a special commission that oversees the progress of the project and provides advice. The Academy has also set up structural commissions where topical problems are discussed by scholars and scientists. Both Academy and non-Academy members are participants in these commissions. The Academy also provides administrative and scientific guidance for scholarly/scientific projects which are financed by the Free State of Saxony or other third parties.

In keeping with a time-honored tradition of academies of sciences, the Saxon Academy awards prizes and awards of excellence. Every two to four years, the Kurt Schwabe Prize is awarded for outstanding scientific achievement in the field of the natural conservation and natural resources. The Indologist Friedrich Weller set up a special fund to enable the Academy to award a prize which bears his name, for outstanding contributions in the fields of Asian history, language, literature and art, with a special focus on India and the Far East. There is also a Weller Scholarship (since 1994) and a Weller fellowship (since 2000). The Academy awards the Wilhelm Ostwald Medal in recognition of major contributions in the natural and engineering sciences. In memory of the work of the prominent historical linguist Theodor Frings, the University of Leipzig and the Academy jointly award a prize for special achievements in the field of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

The Academy strives to have an impact and gain recognition in the public sphere primarily with its publications, but also with regular events such as the Academy Colloquium and Academy Forum, where recent research findings and projects are presented and questions regarding science policy and social policy are discussed. The high point in the Academy’s work is the public Spring Session, which takes place every April, and is dedicated to the anniversary of the birth of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. At this public event, the Academy presents highlights of its work with research projects for the preceding year. One Academy member is given the opportunity to deliver a lecture on his most recent research findings. At its Jubilee Session in April 1996, on the occasion of the marking of 150 years since its establishment, the Academy was highly honored by the presence of the President of the German Federal Republic Roman Herzog and the State Prime Minister of Saxony, Kurt Biedenkopf.