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Academy, originally in ancient Greece, a public garden outside Athens, dedicated to Athena and other deities and containing a grove and a gymnasium. In these gardens, the Greek philosopher Plato met with and instructed his followers, and his informal school came to be known as the Academy. Subsequent schools of philosophy, modelled on Plato’s, were also called academies; the term was eventually used in ancient times to indicate any institution of higher education or the faculty of such an institution. The most notable academies of the ancient world were the Old Academy, founded around 387 bc by Plato; the Middle Academy, founded by the Greek Platonic philosopher Arcesilaus; and the New Academy, founded by the Greek sceptic philosopher Carneades.

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Used to denote a school, the word “academy” has come to be applied to certain kinds of institutions of learning. The Ritterakademien, or schools for knights, appeared increasingly in Germany after the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. The term “academy” was adopted in England during the late 17th and the 18th centuries by Puritan religious sects as a name for secondary schools that they organized to provide for the general education of their children; these institutions were especially designed to train young men for the Puritan ministry, because such education could not be obtained in contemporary schools. The word gradually lost its religious denotation, and by the 19th century, it applied to a secondary school for boys, corresponding roughly to the gymnasium in Germany. In colonial America, the term “academy” was introduced by Benjamin Franklin; his proposal resulted in the chartering of what became the College and Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), with the power to grant degrees.

As a designation for a school, the word “academy” is also used in a looser sense to indicate institutions in which special accomplishments such as horseback riding, fencing, or dancing are taught. It may also be applied to schools that prepare students for a particular profession, such as an air force career.


To describe a body of learned men (originally the faculty of a school of philosophy), the word “academy” has come to be applied to various associations of scholars, artists, literary men, and scientists, organized for the promotion of general or special intellectual or artistic interests, and not necessarily connected with any distinct school. Thus, Charlemagne applied the name in 782 to a group of scholars organized at his court. During the Renaissance, academies achieved an intellectual prominence rivalling that of the universities and first displayed their typical modern form (see History of Education). They characteristically consisted of a group of elected or appointed investigators, generally under royal or state patronage, who encouraged learning, literature, and art by research and publication. In the 15th century important academies were organized in Italy, notably at the courts of the Italian rulers Lorenzo and Cosimo de’ Medici. In Italy, too, one of the earliest academies devoted to science was organized in Naples in 1560; a later academy founded in the same city in 1603 included Galileo among its members. Scientific academies such as the Royal Society of London, incorporated in 1662, have played roles of the highest importance in scientific progress by encouraging investigations and publicizing their results. Stimulated by royal patronage and more efficient methods of communication among scholars, the foundation of academies reached its height in Germany and north-eastern Europe during the 18th century. In France, the most celebrated of all collections of academies was organized in 1795 as the Institut de France. The institute now contains five distinct academies, all but one of which were founded as independent institutions in the 17th century; among the most notable of these are the French Academy and the academies of science and of fine art.



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