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American Philosophical Society

AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY

AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY is the oldest learned society in America. The botanist John Bartram made the first proposal for a general scientific society in Philadelphia in 1739, but it was Benjamin Franklin who issued a public call to found a society of "Virtuosi or ingenious Men," offering his services as secretary. The new society held several meetings in 1743, elected members from neighboring colonies, and members read learned papers and made plans to publish them. However, Franklin complained, the members were "very idle"; consequently, the society languished and by 1746 it had died. In 1766, stimulated by the feelings of American nationalism engendered by the Stamp Act, some younger Philadelphians—many of Quaker background and belonging to the Assembly political party—formed the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge, which sought to develop and promote better agricultural methods, domestic manufactures, and internal improvements. In response, surviving members of the 1743 group and some others, Anglican and Proprietary in sentiment, then revived the "dormant" American Philosophical Society. Wisely, the rival societies merged in 1769 as the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. In a contested election, the members chose Franklin, then in London, as the first president.

The society's first important scientific undertaking was to observe the transit of Venus (3 June 1769). Its reports were first published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, then, in full, in its own Transactions (1771), which, distributed among European academies and philosophers, quickly established the society's reputation. Reorganized in 1784 and 1785 after wartime interruption, the society expanded its membership, erected a hall (still in use), and resumed publication of the Transactions. In the ensuing half-century it became the single most important scientific forum in the United States. Its tone was Jeffersonian, republican, deistic, and pro-French. By loaning its facilities, it encouraged such other learned bodies in Philadelphia as the College of Physicians, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Agricultural Society.

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States and the society simultaneously, used the society as a national library, museum, and academy of sciences, asking it to draft instructions for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and, after the explorers' return, depositing their specimens and report in its museum and library. Materials on American Indian languages collected by Jefferson and another society president, Peter S. Du Ponceau, also went into the library. Joel R. Poinsett donated an impressive collection of ancient Mexican artifacts. During the nineteenth century, the Transactions carried many descriptive articles on American natural history, including those by Isaac Lea on malacology (the study of mollusks), Edward D. Cope on paleontology, F. V. Hayden on geology, Joseph Leidy on anatomy, and Leo Lesquereux on botany. The society's Proceedings also frequently reported Joseph Henry's experiments on electromagnetism.

The society lost preeminence during the mid-1830s to mid-1860s, when specialized learned societies arose. The federal government created its own learned institutions, such as the Smithsonian, and the American Journal of Science was founded. At midcentury the society seemed without imagination or energy—Henry Thoreau called it "a company of old women"—but it continued to meet, publish, and elect persons to membership, overlooking hardly any outstanding scientists.

The bicentennial of Franklin's birth in 1906 brought a renewal of activity, especially in historical publication. From 1927 to 1929 the society drafted plans to reorganize itself as a clearinghouse for scientific knowledge—with popular lectures, a newsletter, and a publications office designed to disseminate "authoritative news of forward steps in all branches of learning." Those plans collapsed with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Private bequests and gifts in the 1930s, particularly from R. A. F. Penrose and E. R. Johnson, produced striking changes, however. While retaining its old organization and traditional practices, the society extended its activities in several directions. It expanded its scholarly publications program, adding a book series, The Memoirs, and a year book to its highly respected monograph series, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. In 1933 it inaugurated a program of research grants, including the gift of large amounts for some projects, such as for extensive archaeological work at Tikal, Guatemala, and a number of smaller grants to individuals (these totaled roughly $400,000 annually by the end of the twentieth century), primarily as a way of fostering scholarly publication. The society continued to develop its library, in 1959 opening its Library Hall, which houses one of the principal collections on the history of science in America, including rare first editions of Benjamin Franklin's Experiments and Observations, Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. In addition, the society sponsors three specific re-search programs in clinical medicine, North American Indians, and the history of the physical sciences. Since the late eighteenth century the society has also maintained an active awards program across a range of disciplines, from the arts and humanities to science and jurisprudence, including the Magellanic Premium (established in 1786), the Barzun prize, the Franklin and Jefferson Medals, the Lashley and Lewis awards, and the Moe and Phillips prizes.

A large percentage of the society's annual operating budget derives from its sizable endowment. The society's Annual Fund (launched in 1992) and foundation grants provide the remainder. Society membership is confined to those who are elected for "extraordinary accomplishment" in their professional fields; more than two hundred society members won the Nobel Prize for their work during the twentieth century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, society membership stood at over seven hundred, 85 percent of whom resided within the United States.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

American Philosophical Society. Year Book. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, published annually since 1937.

Bearn, Alexander G., ed. Useful Knowledge: The American Philosophical Society Millenium Program. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1999.

Hindle, Brooke. The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735–1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956.

Whitfield J.BellJr./c. w.

See alsoLearned Societies ; Lewis and Clark Expedition ; Philanthropy .

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American Philosophical Society

American Philosophical Society, first scientific society in America, founded (1743) in Philadelphia. It was an outgrowth of the Junto formed (1727) by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was the first secretary of the society, and Thomas Hopkinson the first president. In 1769 it merged with the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge. The combined organization elected Franklin its first president, an office he held until his death. David Rittenhouse and Thomas Jefferson were his immediate successors. The society, which has a notable library located in Philadelphia, confers membership upon people of distinction in all fields of intellectual and scientific study.

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American Philosophical Society

American Philosophical Society

Daland Fellowships in Clinical Investigation (Doctorate/Fellowship)
John Hope Franklin Dissertation Fellowships (Doctorate/Fellowship)
Franklin Research Grants (Doctorate/Grant)
Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research (Doctorate/Grant)
Phillips Fund Grant for Native American Research (Graduate/Grant)

104 S Fifth St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3387
Ph: (215)440-3400
URL: http://www.amphilsoc.org

Daland Fellowships in Clinical Investigation (Doctorate/Fellowship)

Purpose: To provide financial support in clinical investigation for research in the several branches of clinical medicine, including internal medicine, neurology, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. Focus: Clinical sciences; Neurology; Pediatric medicine; Surgery; and Psychiatry. Qualif.: Candidates must be both U.S. citizen and foreign national; have an MD or MD/PhD degree for fewer than eight years; do not have more than two years of post-doctoral training and research; expecting to perform the research at an institution in the United States. Criteria: Fellowship recipients will be selected on the basis of merits.

Funds Avail.: $50,000 for first year and $50,000 for second year. To Apply: Applicants must submit a completed application form and letter of support form. Maintain the application format, do not include additional page. Three references are required. Deadline: September 1. Contact: Linda Musumeci, Research Administrator at [email protected] amphilsoc.org, 215-440-3429.

John Hope Franklin Dissertation Fellowships (Doctorate/Fellowship)

Purpose: To support the doctoral projects of minority students. Focus: General studies. Qualif.: Applicants must completed all course work and examinations preliminary to the dissertation; devote full-time for twelve months with no teaching obligations-to research on the dissertation. Criteria: Fellowship recipient will be selected on the basis of merits.

Funds Avail.: $25,000. To Apply: Applicants must submit a completed application form and letter of support form available at the website; must maintain the 3-page format and must not be in 11pt. font smaller. Applications must be submitted as email attachments to [email protected] amphilsoc.org. References are required, referees must follow the format (must not exceed one page) and must be sent electronically to [email protected] Deadline: April 1.

Remarks: The Fellowship is named in honor of a distinguished member of the APS. Recipient of the award is expected to spend a three months in Philadelphia. Contact: Linda Musumeci, Research Administrator, [email protected] amphilsoc.org or 215-440-3429.

Franklin Research Grants (Doctorate/Grant)

Purpose: To support research in all areas of knowledge leading to publication. Focus: General studies. Qualif.: Applicants must have a doctorate or have published work of doctoral character and quality. Pre-doctoral graduate students are not eligible. Criteria: Recipients will be selected based on the jury's review of the application materials.

Funds Avail.: Maximum of $6,000. To Apply: Applicants must submit a completed application form and letter of support form available at the website; must maintain the 4-page format and must not be in 11pt. font smaller. Two references are required, referees must follow the format (must not exceed one page) and must be sent in a sealed envelope with the proposal or sent electronically to [email protected] Deadline: October and December.

Remarks: Recipients of the award may re-apply after two years. Contact: Linda Musumeci, Research Administrator at [email protected], 215-440-3429.

Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research (Doctorate/Grant)

Purpose: To provide funds for projects related to the astro-biological field. Focus: Biological and clinical sciences. Qualif.: Applicant must be a post-doctoral student and a U.S. resident performing research anywhere in the world. Foreign applicants must be based at a U.S. institution or planning to carry out research in the United States. Criteria: Grant recipient will be selected on the basis of merits.

Funds Avail.: $5,000. To Apply: Applicants must submit a completed application form and letter of support form available at the website; must maintain the 3-page format and must have a font size greater than 11pt. Applicant must also submit two references. Referees must also follow the format (must not exceed one page) and send their letters of support to [email protected] Applications must be submitted as email attachments to [email protected] amphilsoc.org. Deadline: February 15. Contact: Linda Musumeci, Research Administrator, [email protected] amphilsoc.org or 215-440-3429.

Phillips Fund Grant for Native American Research (Graduate/Grant)

Purpose: To support research on Native American linguistics, ethnohistory and the history of studies of Native

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American Philosophical Society

AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY

When John Adams wrote that Philadelphia was "the pineal gland of the republic," he may well have had the American Philosophical Society in mind. The APS, the nation's first learned society, began as a self-consciously colonial enterprise in 1743. It evolved into a place where scientific acumen met political power and where Enlightenment ideals of rational thought exerted influence over the body politic.

A suggestion from the botanist John Bartram that the colonies needed a place for men of curiosity to meet and exchange ideas triggered Benjamin Franklin to form the APS. In his prospectus for the Society, Franklin declared that the colonies had at last reached a level of maturity sufficient to support a leisured, thinking class. As a would-be savant still early in his own maturation, he announced an ambitious Enlightened mission of "promoting useful knowledge." Aspiring artisans, mechanics, and merchants, rather than gentlemen, supplied most of the "virtuosi or ingenious men" who comprised the Society in the colonial era, but its few ardent members soon discovered that too many of their peers were in fact too leisured to bother with serious learning. Within a few years, as Franklin later recalled, the Society went dormant.

The concept of a learned society, however, continued to appeal to Philadelphians interested in social advance or personal prestige, and even after Franklin left for a diplomatic assignment in Britain, others took up the project. By the mid-1760s there were two organizations in the city, aligned loosely with the major political factions, both claiming to be successors to Franklin's initiative. Energized by protonationalist sentiments, the emphatically named American Society appointed the absent Franklin to its presidency (without his knowledge) in 1768, while the more conservative, revived American Philosophical Society boasted members who had actually belonged to its namesake. After a brief but intense contest, the two set aside their differences and merged in January 1769, joined shortly by the Medical Society. In Europe, Franklin abetted the fledgling organization, using his rising reputation in learned circles to forge intellectual ties to the metropole and beyond. The reputation of the Society was further enhanced with the appearance in 1771 of its Transactions, the first scholarly journal printed in North America.

During the Revolution the Society shed most of its Loyalist and pacifist members. The APS reemerged in 1780 and dramatically recast itself in a republican mold. Over a two-year span, a pantheon of Revolutionary heroes were inducted into membership, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and Friedrich von Steuben (a general and advisor to Washington), some of whom barely fit the bill as savants. In France, Franklin did his part to reinvigorate the Society, electing a host of major and minor savants (and one woman, Princess Ekaterina Dashkova [1743–1810] of Russia). When he finally returned to Philadelphia in 1785, he completed the bonding of the Society to the republican state by arranging for the new permanent home of the APS to be built on the State House Yard, adjacent to the nation's capitol and Supreme Court. At the crossroads of early national political power, aligned with republican principles and sharing membership liberally with the new government, the APS acted effectively as a national library, academy of sciences, and patent office.

Science came to be fully in service to the state under Thomas Jefferson, who was simultaneously third president of the APS (1797–1814) and the United States. During his tenure, APS members vigorously advocated the improvement of domestic manufactures, publicized and passed judgments on technological innovations, and debated political economy, and the Society offered "premiums" (prizes) to stimulate improvements in navigation, streetlights, stoves, public education, and the preservation of peach trees from rot. The Society also served as a center for discussion of national exploration and expansion. In 1793 Jefferson drew upon the APS to organize a transcontinental scientific expedition under the botanist André Michaux, and ten years later he dusted off these plans as a framework for Lewis and Clark, preserving the records of that expedition in Philosophical Hall. Finally, between 1794 and 1811 the Society was indelibly associated with its tenant, the Philadelphia Museum, the most popular venue in the early Republic. The museum, under the leadership of the portrait artist Charles Willson Peale, presented a unique blend of science, entertainment, and American self-image to a receptive public.

After the federal government relocated to Washington in 1800 and gradually assumed a more active role in promoting industry and internal improvements, the APS lost much of its advisory role. The Society remains an active scholarly organization, however, and still pursues its mission of promoting useful knowledge.

See alsoAcademic and Professional Societies .

bibliography

Bell, Whitfield J. Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society. 2 vols. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1997–1999.

Greene, John C. American Science in the Age of Jefferson. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1984.

Hindle, Brooke. The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735–1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956.

Robert S. Cox

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