American Philosophical Society

American Philosophical Society

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The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743, and located in Philadelphia, Pa., is an eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, that promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach. Considered the country's first learned society, it has played an important role in American cultural and intellectual life for over 270 years.

Through research grants, published journals, the upkeep of the American Philosophical Society Museum, an extensive library, and regular meetings, the society continues to advance careful study in a wide variety of disciplines in the humanities
Humanities
The humanities are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences....

 and the science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

s. The museum is located immediately east of Independence Hall
Independence Hall
Independence Hall is the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets...

 and was designated a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1966. It is part of the Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park in Philadelphia that preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution and the nation's founding history. Administered by the National Park Service, the park comprises much of the downtown historic...

.

History


Originally called "Philosophical Society" and founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, the discussion group was an offshoot of his earlier club, the Junto. It was founded two years after the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 and the institutions remain closely tied.
From the beginning, the Society attracted some of America's finest minds. Early members included George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

, James McHenry
James McHenry
James McHenry was an early American statesman. McHenry was a signer of the United States Constitution from Maryland and the namesake of Fort McHenry...

, Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

, David Rittenhouse
David Rittenhouse
David Rittenhouse was a renowned American astronomer, inventor, clockmaker, mathematician, surveyor, scientific instrument craftsman and public official...

, Nicholas Biddle
Nicholas Biddle
Nicholas Biddle may refer to:* Nicholas Biddle , officer in the American Continental Navy* Nicholas Biddle , American banker and President of the Second Bank of the United States...

, Owen Biddle
Owen Biddle, Sr.
Owen Biddle, Sr. was a clockmaker and watchmaker by trade, a merchant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an American Revolutionary War Colonel, and an astronomer and scientist.-Ancestors and early life:...

, Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush was a Founding Father of the United States. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and a Christian Universalist, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania....

, James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, Michael Hillegas
Michael Hillegas
Michael Hillegas was the first Treasurer of the United States.-Biography:Hillegas was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Margaret Schiebenstock and George Michael Hillegass , an immigrant from Germany and a well-to-do merchant involved in iron and sugar...

, John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

, and clergyman, John Andrews. The Society also drew philosophers from other nations as members, including Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt was a German naturalist and explorer, and the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt...

, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Tadeusz Kościuszko
Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was a Polish–Lithuanian and American general and military leader during the Kościuszko Uprising. He is a national hero of Poland, Lithuania, the United States and Belarus...

, and Princess Dashkova.

By 1746 the Society had lapsed into inactivity. In 1767, however, it was revived, and, on January 2, 1769, it united with the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge under the name "American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge". Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 was elected first president of the group. During this time, the society maintained a standing Committee on American Improvements; one of its investigations was to study the prospects of a canal to connect the Chesapeake and the Delaware waterways.

After the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, the Society looked for leadership
Leadership
Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". Other in-depth definitions of leadership have also emerged.-Theories:...

 to Francis Hopkinson
Francis Hopkinson
Francis Hopkinson , an American author, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. He later served as a federal judge in Pennsylvania...

, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

. Under his influence, the Society received land from the government of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, along with a plot of land in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 where Philosophical Hall now stands.

Illustrious names have continually been added to the membership roster, reflecting the society's scope. Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

, Robert Frost
Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and...

, Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur was a French chemist and microbiologist born in Dole. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal fever, and he created the first vaccine for rabies and anthrax. His experiments...

, Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz
Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz
Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz was an American educator, and the co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College.-Life:...

, John James Audubon
John James Audubon
John James Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats...

, Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling
Linus Carl Pauling was an American chemist, biochemist, peace activist, author, and educator. He was one of the most influential chemists in history and ranks among the most important scientists of the 20th century...

, Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s....

, Maria Mitchell
Maria Mitchell
Maria Mitchell was an American astronomer, who in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as the "Miss Mitchell's Comet". She won a gold medal prize for her discovery which was presented to her by King Frederick VII of Denmark. The medal said “Not in vain do...

, and Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

 became members of the Society. The Society continues to attract names of high renown today, with a current membership list (as of the April 2005 elections) of 920 members, including 772 Resident members (citizens or residents of the United States) and 148 Foreign members representing more than two dozen countries.

Many members of the Society of the Cincinnati
Society of the Cincinnati
The Society of the Cincinnati is a historical organization with branches in the United States and France founded in 1783 to preserve the ideals and fellowship of the American Revolutionary War officers and to pressure the government to honor pledges it had made to officers who fought for American...

 were among APS' first board members and contributors; today the APS and SOC still maintain an informal, collegial relationship.

Awards



In 1786, the Society established the Magellanic Premium
Magellanic Premium
The Magellanic Premium, also known as the Magellanic Gold Medal and Magellanic Prize is awarded for major contributions in the field of navigation , astronomy, or natural philosophy....

, a prize for achievement in "navigation, astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

, or natural philosophy", the oldest scientific prize awarded by an American institution, which it still awards. Other awards include the Barzun prize
Jacques Barzun
Jacques Martin Barzun is a French-born American historian of ideas and culture. He has written on a wide range of topics, but is perhaps best known as a philosopher of education, his Teacher in America being a strong influence on post-WWII training of schoolteachers in the United...

 for cultural history, Judson Daland Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Investigation, the Benjamin Franklin Medal
Benjamin Franklin Medal (American Philosophical Society)
The Benjamin Franklin Medal presented by the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., is awarded since 1906. The originally called "Philosophical Society" was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin. The award was created to remember the 200th anniversary of the...

, the Lashley award for neurobiology, the Lewis award, and the Jefferson medal for distinguished achievement in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

Publications


The APS has published the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society since 1771. Currently five issues appear each year. The Proceedings
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society is a quarterly philosophy peer-reviewed journal published by the American Philosophical Society since 1838.-External links:* , Biodiversity Heritage Library...

have appeared since 1838: they publish the papers delivered at the biannual meetings of the Society. The Society has also published the collected papers of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Joseph Henry
Joseph Henry
Joseph Henry was an American scientist who served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a founding member of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, a precursor of the Smithsonian Institution. During his lifetime, he was highly regarded...

, William Penn
William Penn
William Penn was an English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was an early champion of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations and successful...

, and Lewis and Clark.

American Philosophical Society Museum


The American Philosophical Society Museum hosts exhibitions exploring history, art, and science using its collections. Opened in 2001, the museum is located at the Society's Philosophical Hall, adjacent to Independence Hall, at 104 South Fifth Street in Philadelphia. The Museum in Philosophical Hall features revolving, thematic exhibitions that explore the intersections of history, art, and science. Exhibitions include works of art, scientific instruments, original manuscripts, rare books, natural history specimens, and curiosities of all kinds from the APS's own collections, along with objects on loan from other institutions.

External links