The New African American Members of the American Philosophical Society

The American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin. The society honors distinguished scientists, social scientists, humanities scholars, artists, and societal leaders with membership in the society. Sine 1900, More than 260 members of the APS have won Nobel prizes. Members have included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Frost, Thomas Edison, Sandra Day O’Connor, Charles Darwin, Toni Morrison, and Albert Einstein.

Today the Society has 1,051 elected members, 852 resident members and 169 international members from more than two dozen foreign countries. Only 5,715 members have been elected since 1743.

This year 28 Americans were elected to the society. Six of the new members are African Americans.

Scott Vernon Edwards, Alondra Nelson and Elizabeth Alexander

Scott Vernon Edwards is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and curator of ornithology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Dr. Edwards has been on the faculty at Harvard University since 2003. His research, focusing primarily on birds, examines patterns of speciation, biogeography, evolution of the genome, and the process of adaptation. A native of Hawaii, Dr. Edwards is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University. He earned a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Alondra Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council She holds the Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Earlier, Dr. Nelson was a professor of sociology and dean of social science at Columbia University in New York City. She is the author of several books including The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016). Professor Nelson is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of California at San Diego. She holds a doctoral degree in American studies from New York University.

Elizabeth Alexander is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She took on that post in 2016. Earlier, she was the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities in the department of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City.  Professor Alexander taught at Yale University from 2000 to 2015. While there, she was selected to deliver a poem at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. Professor Alexander is a graduate of Yale University. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing at Boston University and a Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lonnie Bunch III, Carla Hayden and André Watts

Lonnie Bunch III is the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He is the fourteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian. He assumed his position on June 16, 2019. As secretary, he oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers. Bunch was the inaugural director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Earlier, he led the Chicago Historical Society. Born in Belleville, New Jersey, Bunch received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the American University in Washington, D.C.

Carla Hayden is the Librarian at the Library of Congress. When she took office in 2016, she became the fourteenth Librarian of Congress and first African American and the first woman to hold the post. Before being named Librarian of Congress, Dr. Hayden was the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and previously served as the deputy director of the Chicago Public Library. A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Dr. Hayden is a graduate of Roosevelt University in Chicago. She holds a master of library and information science degree and a doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago. Dr. Hayden is a former assistant professor of library science at the University of Pittsburgh.

André Watts holds the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music and is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington. Having debuted with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic at the age of 16, Professor Watts has appeared with celebrated orchestras and conductors around the world. He won a Grammy Award in 1964 for the most promising new classical recording artist. When he was 26 years old, Watts received an honorary degree from Yale University, at that time the youngest person to be so honored by the university. In 2011, he was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. In 2014, Professor Watts was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

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