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Braudy, Soames Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

The honored humanities scholars bring the number of USC College academy fellows to 15.

University Professor Leo Braudy of English and Scott Soames, professor of philosophy, are now fellows of the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photos credit Phil Channing.
University Professor Leo Braudy of English and Scott Soames, professor of philosophy, are now fellows of the esteemed American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Photos credit Phil Channing.

University Professor Leo Braudy of English and Scott Soames, professor of philosophy, have been named fellows of the 230-year-old American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the world's most prestigious honorary societies.

The USC College scholars are among 211 fellows and 18 foreign honorary members newly elected to the academy. Members are prominent figures in scholarship, business, the arts and public affairs.

Braudy, the Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature, and Soames, director of the School of Philosophy, round off the College’s academy fellows to 15.

“Leo Braudy and Scott Soames are true giants in their fields,” College Dean Howard Gillman said. “To be invited to join a group that boasts among its past members the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson shows that they are among the finest scholars of our generation. All of us in USC College are extremely proud and honored to call them colleagues and friends.”

In all, 4,000 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members comprise the academy. They include more than 200 Nobel Prize laureates; Shaw Prize recipients; Grammy, Tony and Oscar award winners; MacArthur and Guggenheim fellows, as well as 50 Pulitzer Prize awardees.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., the group was founded during the American Revolution by John Adams, James Bowdoin and John Hancock. The academy honors “scholar-patriots” who have brought the arts and sciences “into constructive interplay with leaders of both the public and private sectors.” Later incorporators were Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Fellows of the early 20th century included Albert Einstein, Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft.

“It’s a wonderful honor,” Braudy said. “We’re used to seeing scientists receiving big honors; it’s rarer for humanists. So for Scott Soames and I to be elected to a national academy of this caliber is fantastic. It’s important for the university, too. It means that USC is continuing to be recognized in a great way.”

Braudy is one of 21 USC faculty members to hold the title of University Professor, a designation denoting faculty making significant accomplishments in several disciplines. He has appointments in English, cinematic arts and art history, and his research also covers classics, philosophy, history, psychology and more. Among the country’s leading film critics and cultural historians, he is a respected authority on the works of Jean Renoir and François Truffaut.

A prolific author and editor, his book Jean Renoir: The World of His Films (2nd edition, Columbia University Press, 1989) was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (Vintage, 1997), a history of fame, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post and Harper's.

His book, From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity (Knopf, 2003), was named Best of the Best by the Los Angeles Times and a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. That book chronicles the transformations of warfare and manhood from citizen soldiers of ancient Greece to the medieval knights to the misogynistic terrorists of Al Qaeda. His book, On the Waterfront (British Film Institute, 2006), is a study of the film’s production, the post-war values it reflects and the controversy surrounding director Elia Kazan’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Braudy also frequently appears as a commentator discussing popular culture, cultural history, and films on various television shows. He joined the College in 1983, arriving from Johns Hopkins University. His 12th book, The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon is the first in a series about American icons. Published next year by Yale University Press, it chronicles the life of the famous sign and its place in Hollywood history.

“This [fellowship] is the continuation of many more to come for USC,” he said.

Soames said it was nice to be recognized by such a prestigious group. He hoped the internationally-known fellowship draws attention to the exceptional work being done at the USC School of Philosophy, headquartered in the College.

“This award is part of something bigger going on in our department (the School of Philosophy),” Soames said. “We’ve made quite a bit of progress. Many of our professors are being recognized. It’s another brick in the building we’re trying to erect, creating a great department.”

Joining USC College in 2004, Soames came from Princeton University where he was a philosophy professor for 24 years. Upon his arrival, the philosophy program ranked 46th in the nation, according to the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Now, it ranks 17th, and Soames expects the placement to improve.

“We think that’s a matter of time,” Soames said, listing a plethora of recent achievements within the school: Shieva Kleinschmidt of New York University — which has the No. 1 ranked philosophy program — will join the department in fall 2011; Research by Mark Schroeder, associate professor of philosophy, was selected among 2009’s ten best published papers in the field by the Australasian Journal of Philosophy; Work by Associate Professor Steve Finlay was selected as the best paper published in 2009 by the same journal; Assistant Professor Kenny Easwaran recently completed a year-long research fellowship at the Australian National University, and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics James Higginbotham was recruited to teach at the University of Oxford’s Trinity College last spring, to name a few.

Soames specializes in the philosophy of language and the history of analytical philosophy. He is best known for defending and expanding on the “anti-descriptivist revolution” in philosophy led mostly by acclaimed philosopher Saul Kripke, a close colleague of Soames at Princeton. Soames earned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where, working with legendary founder of modern linguistics Noam Chomsky, Soames became one of the first scholars to combine theoretical linguistics with the philosophy of language.

He has written scores of articles and five scholarly books, including the two-volume Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 2003) and Reference and Description (Princeton, 2005). He is also general editor of the Princeton series Foundations of Contemporary Philosophy, a collection of 21 books in which today’s leading philosophers, including Soames, discuss the state of contemporary work in their specialized areas.

His latest works, Philosophy of Language and What is Meaning?, will be published by Princeton this summer.

“I look forward to participating in the academy’s activities,” Soames said.

The academy has four major goals:

  • Promoting service and study through analysis of critical social and intellectual issues and the development of practical policy alternatives.
  • Fostering public engagement and the exchange of ideas with meetings, conferences and symposia bringing diverse perspectives to the examination of issues of common concern.
  • Mentoring a new generation of scholars and thinkers through the Visiting Scholars Program and the Hellman Fellowship Program.
  • Honoring excellence by electing to membership men and women in a broad range of disciplines and professions.

The public may best know the academy through its quarterly journal, Dædalus, widely regarded as among the leading intellectual journals.

Soames and Braudy join the 2010 class of fellows and foreign honorary members who include Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University; Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent at CNN; Francis Ford Coppola, film director; Catherine Elizabeth Snow, professor of education at Harvard University; Denzel Washington, actor, and Elisabeth Jean Wood, professor of political science at Yale University.

The 2010 class of 229 men and women will be inducted into the academy during a ceremony Oct. 9 in Cambridge, Mass.