American Philosophical Society

Richard J. Powell
Richard J. Powell. Photo by J Caldwell

Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History, has been elected to the American Philosophical Society for 2021.  Election to the American Philosophical Society honors extraordinary accomplishments in all fields. The APS is unusual among learned societies because its membership is composed of top scholars from a wide variety of academic disciplines.

The American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.”  The Society sustains its mission in four principal ways. It honors and engages distinguished scientists, humanists, social scientists, and leaders in civic and cultural affairs through elected membership and opportunities for interdisciplinary, intellectual fellowship, particularly in the semi-annual meetings in Philadelphia.  It supports research and discovery through grants and fellowships, lectures, publications, prizes, exhibitions, and public education.  It serves scholars through a research library of some 13 million manuscripts and other collections internationally recognized for their enduring scholarly value. The American Philosophical Society’s current activities reflect the founder’s spirit of inquiry, provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and convey the conviction of its members that intellectual inquiry and critical thought are inherently in the public interest.


Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall.  In the nineteenth century, John James Audubon, Robert Fulton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Maria Mitchell, and Louis Pasteur were among those elected.  Hans Bethe, Willa Cather, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, John Hope Franklin, Robert Frost, George Marshall, Barbara McClintock, and Robert Merton hint at the scientific, humanistic, and public accomplishments of twentieth-century members.  The first woman was elected in 1789 - the Russian Princess Dashkova, president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg.