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Registration for Programs

Janny Scott, The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father

Thursday, October 24, 6:00 PM

In this warmly felt tale of an American family’s fortunes, journalist Janny Scott excavates the rarefied world that shaped her charming, unknowable father, Robert Montgomery Scott, and provides an incisive look at the weight of inheritance, the tenacity of addiction, and the power of buried secrets. Some beneficiaries flourished, like Scott’s grandmother, Helen Hope Scott, a socialite and celebrated horsewoman said to have inspired Katherine Hepburn’s character in the play and Academy Award-winning film The Philadelphia Story. For others, including the author’s father, she concludes, the impact was more complex. Bringing her journalistic talents, light touch, and crystalline prose to this powerful story of a child’s search to understand a parent’s puzzling end, Scott also raises questions about our new Gilded Age. New fortunes are being amassed, new estates are being born. Does anyone wonder how it will all play out, one hundred years hence?

Janny Scott is the author of the New York Times bestseller A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother. She was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2008 and was a member of the Times reporting team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

This event has received generous support from The Alice Beardwood Lecture Fund.

Athenaeum Members Only.  RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email


At the Movies with Carrie Rickey: Architecture and Identity


Monday, October 28, 2:00 PM

(2017) directed by Kogonada (drama set against the modernist architecture in Columbus, Indiana)

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

National Museum of American Jewish History

Looking Again at Louis Kahn

Tuesday, October 29, 7:00 PM

Louis I. Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century, a Philadelphian, and a Russian Jewish immigrant. A panel of world experts explores Kahn’s long-term impact on American design as well as lesser-known aspects of his life and work, including his designs for private homes and a historic synagogue, and his teaching career at the University of Pennsylvania.  

David Brownlee, University of Pennsylvania Department of Art History
Susan G .Solomon, Independent scholar and author
William Whitaker, University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design
Moderated by Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic

This event will take place at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 

Athenaeum, NMAJH, Penn Card Holders Free, General Public $12


Sustainability: Water, Urban Growth, & Biodiversity

Scott Moore, “Philadelphia and the World’s Water Crisis: Local Solutions to a Global Challenge”

Tuesday, October 29, 3:00 PM

Few people would argue with the idea that the world has a serious problem with water. For the past several years, water has consistently been named as a leading risk in the World Economic Forum’s annual survey of global leaders, and newspapers worldwide are awash with stories warning of a water crisis. But a funny thing happens between the headlines: surprisingly little. Even in the case of Cape Town, which last year proclaimed a water supply crisis that experts believed could literally cause taps to run dry, city officials blithely announced earlier this month that no emergency was imminent after all.  

So, is the world really facing a water crisis? The answer is yes—but not in the way most people think. The truth is, most of the world’s water woes can be solved with enough money and willpower. The real challenges are not technical or hydrological but political and ethical. And as it happens, Philadelphia has some important lessons for how to solve these challenges, from local institutions like the Delaware River Basin Commission to the city’s pioneering initiatives on water affordability and watershed restoration.    

Scott Moore is a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania whose interests center on environmental sustainability, technology, and international relations. His first book, Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation, and Institution-Building in Shared River Basins (Oxford University Press, 2018), examines how climate change and other pressures affect the likelihood of conflict over water within countries. At Penn, Scott is Director of the Penn Global China Program and a Senior Fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and The Water Center at Penn. Previously, Moore was a Young Professional and Water Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank Group, and Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Officer for China at the U.S. Department of State, where he worked extensively on the Paris Agreement on climate change. Prior to entering public service, Moore was Giorgio Ruffolo Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Moore’s research and commentary on a wide range of environmental and international affairs issues has appeared in a range of leading scholarly journals and media outlets, including Nature, The China Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, and The New York Times. Moore holds doctoral and master’s degrees from Oxford University and an undergraduate degree from Princeton. He is a Truman, Fulbright, and Rhodes Scholar.

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

Signe Wilkinson, "Political Cartooning: From Martin Luther to Frank Rizzo and Donald Trump"

Thursday, November 7, 5:30 PM

Signe Wilkinson, the editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1985 and Tony Auth’s successor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, will show historic (even older than she is) images as well as her more recent work to argue that cartooning will always be with us as a way of drawing for change.

This event has received generous support from The Edith Ogden Harrision Lecture Fund.

Athenaeum Members Free, General Public $15

Eventbrite Registration

Bruce Laverty, “Rose Valley: Vision, Community, Collection”

Friday, November 8, 5:30 PM

Athenaeum Curator of Architecture Bruce Laverty will discuss the visionary work of architect William Lightfoot Price (1861-1916) in the founding of the utopian arts and crafts community of Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Laverty will reveal how, over three decades, the Athenaeum assembled an extraordinarily rich collection of Rose Valley archival materials, from multiple and diverse donors. Learn how this collection, preserved and digitized by the Athenaeum, is tangibly contributing to the rebirth of the Rose Valley community in the 21st century.

Athenaeum and Rose Valley Members Only.  RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

There will also be a tour of Rose Valley on November 10th. Details and Registration.


John Van Horne, "Reconstructing Philadelphia’s Earliest Museums, 1774-1827"

Tuesday, November 19, 3:00 PM

The city’s – indeed America’s – earliest museums were the one operated from 1782 to 1784 by Pierre Eugène Du Simitière and the one opened in 1786 by Charles Willson Peale. Neither museum survives, and their contents were long ago dispersed. Using many contemporaneous sources, this project will create a database (and ultimately a website) of the thousands of objects once in these museums – paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, natural history specimens, Native American artifacts and other ethnographic materials, antiquities, fossils, minerals, coins, medals, models of inventions, manufactures, books, pamphlets, maps, lusus naturae, and myriad “curiosities.” This virtual reconstruction will therefore document an important part of the city’s visual and material culture during the half-century from the beginning of Du Simitière’s residence in Philadelphia in 1774 until Peale’s death in 1827.

John C. Van Horne is Director Emeritus of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which he served as Director from 1985 to 2014. Previously he was Editor of The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. He was educated at Princeton University and received his PhD in history from the University of Virginia. He has published many scholarly articles and edited or co-edited numerous volumes, including America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram; Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad: The Photographs of William H. Rau; The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women’s Political Culture in Antebellum America; and seven volumes of the Latrobe Papers. He has been President of the Independent Research Libraries Association and a Board member of the National Humanities Alliance, the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia, and the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary. Currently he serves on the Committee on the Library and Museum of the American Philosophical Society and as Chair of the Administrative Board of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. He lives in Wynnewood with his wife Christine, and they have a grown daughter.

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

Patricia Tyson Stroud, Bitterroot: The Life and Death of Meriwether Lewis

Thursday, November 21, 5:30 PM

In America's early national period, Meriwether Lewis was a towering figure. Selected by Thomas Jefferson to lead the expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, he was later rewarded by Jefferson with the governorship of the entire Louisiana Territory. Yet within three years, plagued by controversy over administrative expenses, Lewis found his reputation and career in tatters. En route to Washington to clear his name, he died mysteriously in a crude cabin on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. Was he a suicide, felled by his own alcoholism and mental instability? Most historians have agreed. Patricia Tyson Stroud reads the evidence to posit another, even darker, ending for Lewis.

Stroud uses Lewis's find, the bitterroot flower, with its nauseously pungent root, as a symbol for his reputation as a purported suicide. It was this reputation that Thomas Jefferson promulgated in the memoir he wrote prefacing the short account of Lewis's historic expedition published five years after his death. Without investigation of any kind, Jefferson, Lewis's mentor from boyhood, reiterated undocumented assertions of Lewis's serious depression and alcoholism.

That Lewis was the courageous leader of the first expedition to explore the continent from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean has been overshadowed by presuppositions about the nature of his death. Stroud peels away the layers of misinformation and gossip that have obscured Lewis's rightful reputation. Through a retelling of his life, from his resourceful youth to the brilliance of his leadership and accomplishments as a man, Bitterroot shows that Jefferson's mystifying assertion about the death of his protégé is the long-held bitter root of the Meriwether Lewis story.

Patricia Tyson Stroud is an independent scholar. She is author of Thomas Say: New World NaturalistThe Emperor of Nature: Charles-Lucien Bonaparte and His WorldThe Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon's Brother Joseph, and, with Robert McCracken Peck, A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science, all of which are available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

This event has received generous support from The Francis R. and Jean L. Grebe Lecture Fund.

Athenaeum Members Only.  RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

Sustainability: Water, Urban Growth, & Biodiversity

Michael Weisberg, “Save the Sea Lion: Community Science in the Galápagos Archipelago”

Monday, November 25, 3:00 PM

Michael Weisberg is professor and chair of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the philosophy of science, especially the role of idealization in modeling. His other research includes social and cultural evolutionary theory, the nature of the chemical bond, the division of cognitive labor, and the public understanding of evolution and climate change. Professor Weisberg is also a Distinguished Research Fellow of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy, a faculty affiliate of the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and a member of the governing board of the Philosophy of Science Association.

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

Patrick Spero and Madeline Miller, “Fact and Fiction in the Writing of Histories”

Wednesday, December 4, 6:00 PM

Sometimes the truth can be stranger than fiction, while at other times the freedom of imagination can illuminate more about a moment than a historical account bound by sources. For this moderated discussion, the two winners of the Athenaeum Literary Award, novelist Madeline Miller, author of the novel Circe, and  historian Patrick Spero, author of Frontier Rebels, will talk about the opportunities and limitations of both forms of writing.

Patrick Spero is the Librarian and Director of the Library & Museum in Philadelphia. As a scholar of early American history, Dr. Spero specializes in the era of the American Revolution. He has published over a dozen essays and reviews on the topic. His is the author of Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776 (Norton, 2018), Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), and the edited anthology The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). Prior to his appointment at the American Philosophical Society, Dr. Spero taught at Williams College where he served on the faculty of the History and Leadership Studies Department and received recognition for his integration of new technology in the classroom.

Madeline Miller earned her BA and MA in Classics from Brown University, and has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare for nearly twenty years. Her novels The Song of Achilles and Circe were both New York Times Bestsellers, and she won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her works have been translated into over 25 languages.

This event has received generous support from The Charles Wharton Stork Lecture Fund.

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

Sustainability: Water, Urban Growth, & Biodiversity

Richard Weller, “Designing a Planet- for better or worse?”

Tuesday, December 10, 3:00 PM

This lecture will explore ways in which planners, designers and conservationists are now trying to reconcile urban growth and environmental values on a planetary scale.

Richard Weller is the Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture and co-executive director of the McHarg Center at The University of Pennsylvania. In over 30 years of practice he has worked simultaneously as an academic and a consultant specializing in the formative stages of design and planning projects ranging across all scales. Weller’s creative work has received numerous awards, predominantly in international design competitions, and in both 2017 and 2018 he was noted by ‘Design Intelligence’ as one of North America’s most admired teachers. He has published over 100 academic papers and 6 books and is the creative director of LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture. His research has concerned scenario planning for cities, megaregions and nations and most recently, global flashpoints between biodiversity and urban growth.

Free. RSVP: Call 215-925-2688 or email

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