The North American Society for Oceanic History was created by the common agreement of a number of prominent maritime scholars who met in 1971 at the University of Maine. They recognized that in North America there was no forum for maritime history or a society devoted to the study and promotion of maritime history. Successive meetings were held in Maine and Annapolis, Maryland. Encouraged by a little money and a lot of enthusiasm, Clark Reynolds, John Lyman, Philip Lundeberg, Jeffery Safford, Cy Hamilton, Eric Allaby, William Baker and others launched NASOH officially by incorporating it in Maine in 1974. An organizing committee was formed, a constitution drawn up, and in 1976 officers were selected. Over one-hundred members, principally Canadians and Americans, constituted the membership.

Under the leadership of William A. Baker, a distinguished naval architect and curator of the Hart Nautical Museum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and vice-presidents W.A.B (Alec) Douglas (Directorate of History, Canadian Forces), Jack Kemble (Pomona College), John H. Parry (Harvard University), and Secretary-Treasurer Clark Reynolds (University of Maine; U.S. Merchant Marine Academy), the Society began its annual meetings. Sites for these meetings are always important for their maritime and historical significance. A meeting was held during a howling March blizzard at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The U.S. Naval Academy was host for the meeting at Annapolis in 1978, and in succession each spring came meetings at the Mariners’ Museum at Newport News; Halifax, Nova Scotia: Cleveland, Ohio, hosted by the Great Lakes Historical Society; Charleston, South Carolina at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum aboard the USS Yorktown; Mystic Seaport; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York; Salem, Massachusetts at the Peabody Museum and at the Rosenburg Library in Galveston, Texas in 1986. Recent conference sites have included Savannah, Georgia, St. Michaels, Maryland, Bath, Maine, and Honolulu, Hawaii. The aim of the original group of organizers was to create a diverse organization based initially on Canadian and American membership, which would gain the interest of others. Now there are members in England, France, Australia, and elsewhere. And it is this diversity of membership that continues to make NASOH a truly unique organization.