On November 23, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed members of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences to a reception at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. In an
excerpt of remarks offered at this event, Dr. Fanton shared details of the American
Academy’s historical ties to French Foreign Honorary Members, introduced recent
studies led by Academy members of potential interest to colleagues in France, and
expressed interest in future collaborations with Academy members in France.
Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences and it is my pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Academy’s Foreign
Honorary Members in Paris. I would like to begin by thanking President Jobert for
warmly welcoming us to the Sorbonne this evening. I am joined by James Cuno, President
and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, who is the American Academy’s first International
The Academy has 600 Foreign Honorary Members from 38 countries around the world,
and we want to connect with them and build bridges of understanding and cooperation.
In this spirit, I met with Foreign Honorary Members in Russia in September and tomorrow
Jim and I will travel to London to meet with members there.
Please allow me to give you a brief history of the Academy and our work with our
French colleagues and members. The American Academy was founded in 1780 by John
Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other leaders who helped to establish the
new nation. In the midst of the American Revolution, they believed that the key
to America’s long-term strength and survival was, in the words of our charter, “to
cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity,
and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”
In our very first class of members in 1781, the Academy elected two leading figures
in America’s fight for independence: George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The
new class also included two American allies, both French diplomats who served in
the United States as members of the French legation: Anne-César de la Luzerne,
the French Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States and later French Second
Minister to the United States, as well as François Barbé-Marbois, who was
secretary to the legation and charge d’affaires.
Over the Academy’s history, we have elected nearly 275 Foreign Honorary Members
from France, with one of the most well-known being Louis Pasteur, renowned for his
discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization.
There are 72 current French honorary members, and we added two this year in the
2015 election: Miroslav Radman, Professor of Cell Biology at the Université
René Descartes Medical School, and composer György Kurtag.
Since our founding, the Academy has brought together groups of members and other
experts to examine some of the most pressing challenges of the day through meetings,
projects, and publications. Over the years, we have done so in cooperation with
For example, from 1988 to 1992, a project in collaboration with the École
Normale Supérieure examined immigration policies in France and the United
States. The study compared the two countries’ immigration policies, race relations,
and political institutions; looked at how both countries educate and house immigrants;
and analyzed the political and legal implications in each country of integration,
marginalization, and discrimination.
As another example, on June 6, 2000, the Academy held its first Stated Meeting outside
of the Americas in Paris, at the residence of the United States Ambassador to France
and Academy Fellow Felix Rohatyn. The meeting included Academy Fellows and Foreign
Honorary Members as well as representatives of the Institute de France, Académie
des Sciences, Académie Française, and other learned societies. The meeting
focused on the intellectual partnership between the United States and France and
the globalization of ideas and culture.
During the meeting, Yves Quéré, Foreign Secretary of the Académie
des Sciences, described the interdependent worlds of thought encompassed by the
American Academy's membership of both artists and scientists. He said, “You address
the inner worlds of our spirit, our soul, our heart, and our faith, as well as the
outer spaces of molecules, galaxies, economy, history, ethics. You explore both
the moi and the nous, and for that, you deserve praise and thanks.”
Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, Permanent Secretary of the Académie
Française, added that “[d]uring the American Revolution, just as the American Academy
was being founded, there were scholars in our ranks who studied the events in your
new nation and who felt that your struggle for independence was part of our history
More recently, the American Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences
brought members together from across disciplines to assess the state of humanistic
and social scientific scholarship and education. It released its influential report,
The Heart of the Matter, in 2013. The report acknowledged that
the humanities and social sciences make it possible for people around the world
to work together to address issues of mutual importance, such as peace and sustainability.
Among its many recommendations was a call to promote language learning, expand education
in international affairs and transnational studies, and support international exchange
The Academy recently published a report on the need for governments to invest in
basic research in science and technology. We are following up with a new project
examining the state of public trust in science and scientists. We are also pleased
to announce two new Commissions: the
Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, which
will look at how Americans are receiving their undergraduate education and how to
expand access at a price students can afford; and the
Commission on Language Learning, which will examine the
teaching of foreign languages in the United States.
But not all of our projects deal with scholarship and higher education. Our Global Nuclear Future Group
is studying how to expand the use of nuclear power safely. Another project is exploring
how technology—think drones—pose new dilemmas in the ethical use of
force. Another study is considering the threat to global stability posed by weak
and failing states.
The Academy does not want to look at these important questions through an American-centric
lens. We want to engage our Foreign Honorary Members in all the work we do, whether
on the importance of the humanities, the safe pursuit of nuclear power or how best
to address the dangers of weak states.
At this point, Dr. Fanton introduced James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul
Getty Trust and the American Academy’s first International Secretary.
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