Phi Beta Kappa was founded December 5th, 1776 by five students at the College of William and Mary for the purposes of social interaction and intellectual stimulation. Phi Beta Kappa was the first society to have a Greek letter name, and it served as the model for later organizations, with an oath of secrecy, a badge, mottoes in Greek and Latin, a code of laws, an elaborate initiation ceremony, and a special handshake. Many of these features are preserved in the society today.

The Phi Beta Kappa Key

The Phi Beta Kappa key, pictured on the right, is the society's official emblem and badge of membership. It is a widely recognized token of its wearer's intellectual and academic prowess.

In the years since its founding, Phi Beta Kappa has established itself as the oldest and most prestigious honors society in America, and as a leading advocate for the liberal arts and sciences. More details about the society, its founding, activities, and ideals, can be found at the national Phi Beta Kappa Society web site.

The James Madison University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established in spring 2010 as the Xi of Virginia chapter. (Xi is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet and the JMU chapter is the 14th chapter of Phi Beta Kappa established in Virginia.) The JMU chapter works to promote scholarship at JMU by recognizing outstanding students with nomination to membership in the society, and working in other ways to support and honor intellectual achievement.

We are pleased to invite the public to a lecture by  Phi Beta Kappa Visting Scholar Edward Larson on September 27 at 4:30 p.m. in the Madison Union ballroom entitled John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the Catastrophic Election of 1800.

Professor Larson is University Professor of History and holds the Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in History and numerous other awards for writing and teaching, Professor Larson is the author of fifteen books and over one hundred published articles. His books, which have been translated into over twenty languages, include the 2015 New York Times bestseller The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States; An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science; A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign; and the Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. His articles have appeared in such varied publications as Nature, Atlantic Monthly, Science, Scientific American, Time, The Wall Street Journal, American History, The Guardian, and dozens of academic journals.

Dr. Larson's lecture will discuss the election of 1800, which is regarded by presidentail historians as perhaps the most divisive and ultimately the most pivotal presidential election in American history. It marked the beginning of partisan politics as we know it today and pitted two heroes of the Revolution and former friends, John Adams of Massachusetts, the sitting President, and Thomas Jefferson, the sitting Vice President, against each other in what became a no-holds-barred fight to the finish for the future of the republic.


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