It operates as an independent not-for-profit organisation partly funded by the Australian government.
- supports humanities research through conferences, grants and awards;
- supports the diffusion of humanities research findings through publication subsidies and media promotion;
- provides advice to government, industry, the media, and the community on matters concerning the humanities;
- maintains collaborations with bodies concerned with national cultural prosperity; and
- maintains relations and exchanges with international bodies.
The Australian Academy of the Humanities was established by Royal Charter in 1969. Its antecedent was the Australian Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which was convened informally in 1954 through the combined efforts of Dr Brian R. Elliott and Professor A.N. Jeffares, who organised preliminary meetings in Melbourne of delegates drawn from the Faculties of Arts in Australian universities.
The Academy is governed by a Council of leaders in the humanities, elected from among its Fellows, who provide strategic direction, policy guidance, and management oversight. The Council meets four times a year. A Canberra-based Secretariat is responsible for the day-to-day running of the Academy.