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Reception at the British Academy for American Academy Members

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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