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American Academy of Arts and Sciences - Program, Organization, Members, Financial Support, History

society knowledge public social

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an international learned society dedicated to the promotion of critical analysis of the important social and intellectual issues of the day through the free exchange of ideas and perspectives. Through its publication, Daedalus, as well as its meetings, conferences, and symposia, it strives to develop useful policy initiatives while encouraging the development of new generations of scholars committed to improving the level of social discourse and creating a truly civil society.

Program

The academy brings multidisciplinary, collaborative attention to bear on three major areas of interest: science, technology, and global security; social policy and education; and the humanities and culture. Within these broad areas of interest, a wide range of topics are explored with the goal of achieving practical improvements that will benefit society as a whole.

Organization

The academy is governed by a council consisting of seventeen voting members and six nonvoting, advisory members. The council meets three times annually to set policy and plan initiatives. Although its base of operations remains in Massachusetts, it has two regional centers, one at the University of Chicago and another at the University of California at Irvine. In addition, it maintains affiliations with many of the nation's public and private universities.

Members

From its initial sixty-one members, the academy has grown dramatically. At the end of the twentieth century it had a membership of 3,700 American fellows and 600 international (honorary) fellows. Among these were 160 Nobel laureates and 50 Pulitzer Prize winners. Membership is divided into classes, defined by the intellectual disciplines represented. There are five classes: mathematics and physical sciences; biological sciences; social sciences; humanities and the arts; and public affairs, business, and administration. To become a member, an individual must be nominated by a current member and elected by the academy as a whole. Once exclusively male, the academy inducted its first female member in 1848.

Financial Support

The academy is a private, nonpartisan organization that maintains its independence in order to encourage the free and unfettered exchange of ideas. It receives its funding from individual charitable contributions as well as from grants provided by foundations and public agencies. In addition it receives revenues from the sale of Daedalus, a highly respected journal of opinion and policy. Most of its budget is devoted to covering the costs of individual research projects, as well as sponsoring seminars and symposia.

History

During the American Revolution, a group of gentleman scholars gathered together in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to form a scholarly society: the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Numbering such leaders as John and Samuel Adams, James Bowdoin, and John Hancock among them, the first academy's membership shared the belief that, as "men of genius," they had a duty to their country and their fellow citizens to cultivate the arts and sciences and to spread knowledge of them throughout the populace.

The founders did not believe that a true scholar should remain aloof from the mundane world. Rather, they were convinced that the arts and sciences were fundamental to success in all aspects of life, from agriculture to commerce, architecture to industry. Further, they believed that these pursuits were vital to the happiness, dignity, and advancement of the populace.

Their goal was to create a forum in which intellectuals of all sorts would share their learned insights in order to come up with practical solutions to problems as wide ranging as international affairs, farming and animal husbandry, medicine, and meteorology. Drawing on the example of learned societies in Europe, they foresaw an important role for the "citizen scholar" in the new nation. Through their writings, speeches, and other activities, the early members of the academy were highly successful in spreading new ideas throughout New England's educated class and creating a culture that celebrated the practical application of scholarly knowledge.

At the outset, the academy took special interest in antiquities (archaeology), natural history, mathematics and philosophy, astronomy, meteorology, geography, and advances in medicine. Over time, however, the disciplinary focus of the organization changed, and by the twentieth century the emphasis was placed more squarely on the public service and policymaking aspect of the original charter. Nonetheless, the academy continues to take seriously its goal of mentoring new generations of scholars and honoring scholarly achievement.

Throughout its history, the academy has fulfilled its purpose by facilitating discourse among educated and interested people both in the United States and abroad. The present academy still holds tightly to the founders' conviction that knowledge is best shared, and as a matter of principle insists on the swift publication and wide dissemination of any findings, reports, or data it generates. It remains committed to the belief that the advancement of knowledge can only enhance the strength, welfare, and security of a healthy nation.

INTERNET RESOURCE

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES. 2002. <www.amacad.org>.

JOHN VOSS

Revised by

NANCY E. GRATTON

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