James Bowdoin, the first president of the American Academy, was inaugurated on November 8, 1780, in a meeting house not far from the Academy’s modern headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his inaugural address, entitled “A Philosophical Discourse, Addressed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” Bowdoin imagined that future generations of Americans would look back on that moment with great admiration:
It was not to be expected that our ancestors, involved in a civil war, could give any attention to literature and the sciences; but superior to their distresses, and animated by their general principles . . . they instituted the excellent society, called The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Our new publication, Advancing Knowledge: Selections from the Archives of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, provides insight into the many ways that the Academy has nurtured “literature and the sciences” since Bowdoin’s time. I encourage you to read the article about Advancing Knowledge in this issue of the Bulletin, and then to peruse the book itself, which offers a fascinating overview of the Academy and its Fellows through history, including more information about Bowdoin’s remarkable “Philosophical Discourse.”
Bowdoin’s inaugural address described the interests and preoccupations of Academy Fellows at the founding moment, including the study of the natural and cultural histories of North America–the literal and figurative roots of the new nation. This issue of the Bulletin illustrates how the Academy today is realizing Bowdoin’s vision.
The “Academy at Work” section provides an overview of our current projects and publications. The lead stories on our new report on science policy, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, and the important work of our Global Nuclear Future Initiative chronicle the Academy’s efforts in advancing sensible public policies at home and addressing global security challenges. And the coverage of our recent presentations includes the remarks of several new members, who helped make our 2014 Induction Weekend such an informative and moving event. I hope that you will read these wonderful presentations and be inspired to join us in Cambridge for the 2015 Induction Weekend on October 9–11, 2015.
All of these projects, publications, and events reflect the passions of our members, who continue to work through this “excellent society” to advance the arts and sciences, and to serve the public good. I am grateful to all of you for upholding the “general principles” of the American Academy.