Press Release
May 23, 2023

American Academy Reckoning with its History


Book by Historian Jacqueline Jones & New Online Content

Looking ahead to its 250th anniversary in 2030, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has commissioned a book about its history by one of the nation’s most distinguished historians, Jacqueline Jones. In addition, the Academy just launched a section on its website to provide an overview of its members and work, set forth institutional milestones, and establish a base on which to add additional information as it becomes available.

The book will provide a forthright assessment of the Academy’s activities and membership since its establishment in 1780, by situating the organization’s development within the larger history of the nation it was created to serve.

“The Academy offers a unique lens through which we can explore the pursuit and application of knowledge over the course of American history. We are committed to sharing what we see and learn in print and online,” said David Oxtoby, the president of the Academy. “We are one of the few organizations that are fundamentally part of American history: the Academy’s arc begins before our nation’s founding, includes the rise of the research university, and continues today as the country faces global challenges and holds aspirations for the future.”

The book will provide an opportunity for an engaging and informative narrative arc for readers well beyond the Academy membership. The project, developed in consultation with an Advisory Committee of Academy members and subject matter experts, is supported by a grant from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. “We are grateful to the Mandel Foundation not only for supporting the written history, but also for their meaningful commitment to preserving, digitizing, and sharing the Academy’s archival materials online,” said Oxtoby.

To write the book, the Academy selected award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones, the Ellen C. Temple Chair in Women’s History Emerita at the University of Texas at Austin. Her fields of study include U. S. labor, urban, southern, African American, and women’s history and her work has been recognized with the Bancroft Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, membership in the American Academy, and most recently the presidency of the American Historical Association. Her prior works include Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present; Saving Savannah:  The City and the Civil War; A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America; and her new book, No Right to an Honest Living: The Struggles of Boston’s Black Workers in the Civil War Era.

“Jackie Jones is an historian whose award-winning books are read by the public and scholars alike. We are thrilled she is taking on the Academy’s history for her next project,” said Paula J. Giddings (Smith College) who chairs the Academy’s Council (the governing body that advises primarily on the academic work of the Academy) and serves on the history project’s Advisory Committee. “The accolades and awards she has earned are impressive, but we were just as impressed by her determination to tell the stories of people too often omitted from conventional narratives. A full perspective is essential for a true accounting of how the Academy has lived up to the ideals in its founding charter, and when and why it fell short of those aspirations.”

Dr. Jones said she is “eager to get started on my research and I look forward to diving into the sources.” The Academy’s archives and professional staff will be a vital resource in her work. Begun in 2005 in commemoration of the Academy’s 225th anniversary, the archives includes more than two thousand feet of papers, books, and other items of historical value that represent a record of both the Academy and the intellectual history of the United States.

Dr. Jones will also consult with an advisory committee consisting of Catherine Allgor (Massachusetts Historical Society), Craig Calhoun (Arizona State University), Daniel J. Cohen (Northeastern University), Paula Giddings (Smith College), Sally Gregory Kohlstedt (University of Minnesota), David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group), and Ben Vinson (Case Western Reserve University).

The book will be published in mid-2030, marking 250 years since the Massachusetts legislature approved the Academy’s charter. Even before the anniversary, the Academy is acting on its commitment to reckon with its history by sharing information about its members, milestones, and work online. The new resource will expand and grow as more research is undertaken, more archival materials are processed, and there is more information to share.

“We are early in the process of reckoning but we have foundational values, the new digital presence, the launch of the book project with Jackie Jones, and a commitment to continuing to show and share what we learn,” said Oxtoby. “We are a historic organization with a historic opportunity to understand where we have fallen short, how we have excelled, and what must be done in the future.”

Academy history online: members, timeline, and work.






A Book on the History of the Academy

Catherine Allgor, Craig Calhoun, Dan Cohen, Paula J. Giddings, David A. Hollinger, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, David M. Rubenstein, and Ben Vinson