On November 24, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed members of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences at a reception at the British Academy. In an excerpt of remarks
offered at this event, Dr. Fanton discussed the history shared by these academies
and presented recent studies led by American Academy members that might be of interest
to colleagues in the United Kingdom. He also shared his hopes that the members of
these two academies will collaborate in the near future.
Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this reception for members. Let me
begin by thanking President Nicholas Stern and Chief Executive Alun Evans for welcoming
us to the British Academy.
I am joined by James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, who is
the American Academy’s first International Secretary. The establishment of this
new position, and our first international trip together, signal the Academy’s desire
to make common cause with colleagues here in Europe and around the world. The Academy
has about 600 Foreign Honorary Members from 38 countries. We seek to connect to
them, building bridges of understanding and cooperation.
We chose London as one of the first places to visit because of the warm welcome
we received here in June 2014 when the American Academy and the British Academy
held a joint conference that examined the state of humanities research and education
in an international context. The conference concluded a year in which both academies
published major reports on the humanities and social sciences: the American Academy’s
The Heart of the Matter report and the British Academy’s
Prospering Wisely white paper.
That conference, entitled “Broadening
the Debate: How the Humanities and Social Sciences can help us address global challenges,”
was the first official collaboration between the two academies in a century.
We are pleased to consider other opportunities to work together, including scholar
exchanges or other joint conferences that we might pursue with members of the British
Academy in the future.
The United Kingdom is home to approximately 180 of our members, the largest concentration
outside of the United States. Over the years, the American Academy has welcomed
more than 650 members from the United Kingdom, dating back to 1782 and the election
of Richard Price, Joseph Priestly, and Thomas Brand Hollis. Other members who followed
include: mathematician Charles Babbage, elected in 1832, naturalist Charles Darwin,
elected in 1874; zoologist Thomas Huxley, elected in 1883; poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
elected in 1876; Prime Minister Winston Churchill, elected in 1946; and actor Laurence
Olivier, elected in 1971.
In 2015, the American Academy added two British Foreign Honorary Members as part
of its 235th class: Clive Cookson, Science Editor at the Financial Times,
and Christopher Prendergast of the University of Cambridge. We also welcomed two
Fellows who reside in the UK: Professor Peter Mandler of the University of Cambridge
and pianist Murray Perahia. Please join me in congratulating them on their election
to the Academy.
The American Academy founders, John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock among them,
believed that an important part of building a new democratic nation 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.” But from the very beginning the Academy’s function was not simply to honor
excellence in a broad range of disciplines and professions. Its members also conduct
studies of critical policy issues and debate the most pressing issues of the day.
Our ability to draw on experts from around the world and from every discipline and
profession is the Academy’s biggest asset in providing thoughtful, independent trusted
advice to the nation and beyond.
Allow me to share some examples of particular relevance to our group gathered here.
Earlier I mentioned The Heart of the Matter, our report
released in 2013 by the
Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. This
report acknowledged the ways in which these fields enable us to participate in a
global economy that requires understanding of diverse cultures and sensitivity to
different perspectives. At the same time, the humanities and social sciences make
it possible for people around the world to work together to address issues from
environmental sustainability to global health challenges.
Among its many recommendations, The Heart of the Matter urged greater emphasis
on the learning of multiple languages. Now, we are following up on this recommendation.
Inspired by last year’s joint event and by the British Academy’s program to deepen
awareness and demonstrate the importance of languages in the humanities and social
sciences, the American Academy has launched a new
Commission on Language Learning. It will examine the current
state of language education and how it influences economic growth, cultural diplomacy,
and the productivity and personal fulfillment of future generations.
A recent Academy report on science and engineering research, entitled
Restoring the Foundation, encourages a greater
emphasis on long-range planning in the area of science and engineering. It urges
funders and policy-makers to provide more supportive basic research that may not
yield immediate results, but that may ultimately prove transformative.
We have just launched a new initiative on The Public Face of Science, which will
address various aspects of the complex and evolving relationship between scientists
and the public. This multi-year project will examine how public trust in science
is shaped by individual experiences, beliefs, and exposure to media reports on scientific
discoveries, including digital media outlets. Activities will include roundtable
discussions with Academy members and practicing journalists, as well as a series
of shorter studies on how scientists are consulted during specific public policy
decisions, such as court cases and natural disasters.
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 looking at the threat to stability
posed by weak and failing states. And yet another is asking whether the world is
entering a new nuclear age in which the framework that has provided stability for
the past decades is eroding.
We do not want to look at these issues with an American-centric lens. We want to
engage our Foreign Honorary Members and our Fellows living abroad in all the work
we do. To this end, I invite you to share your thoughts on the studies, projects
and publications that you have heard me outline here, as well as on other initiatives
the Academy might undertake. We very much want the Academy to have an increasing
presence in Europe and around the world, and welcome your suggestions about how
we can work together.
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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