270 years of the RSA - RSA Journal issue 1 2024 - RSA

270 years of the RSA

RSA Journal Issue 1 2024

270 years of rewilding mind, soul and heart

CEO, RSA Andy Haldane

This issue of the Journal celebrates the 270th anniversary of the RSA. On 22 March 1754, 11 good men and true — alas, they were all men — assembled in Rawthmell’s coffee house in Covent Garden.

When they emerged, the RSA had been born as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the ‘Royal’ prefix came in 1908). Over 270 years, it has become an institution whose social innovation and changemaking has shaped and reshaped the world not once, but many times.

As Anton Howes (the RSA’s Resident Historian) sets out in his article, the world today would be unrecognisable without the RSA. Gone would be millions of trees, trade fairs, school examinations, iconic institutions such as the Royal Academy, Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Science Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Royal College of Music, along with blue plaques (the history of which is told by Mike Thatcher), to name but a few.

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A world without the RSA

Lead Feature

Anton Howes

Soul conversations


Judah Armani

Young at heart


Jonathan Prosser

King Cole’s blue-sky thinking


Mike Thatcher

In conversation with Anab Jain

In Conversation

Andy Haldane

50 Famous Fellows


Dan Matthews

Power to the people


Leah Clarkson

Take courage


Lucy Kerbel

But the history of the RSA is much more than its list of innovations. The mind, soul and heart of the RSA are its Fellows. From a potentially much longer list, the article by Dan Matthews introduces 50 of our prominent changemakers. It is hard to imagine many institutions globally that have had so illustrious a set of Fellows (or members, as they were known before 1914). From US presidents to scientific pioneers, from philosophical trailblazers to global peacemakers, from environmental rainmakers to cultural icons.

... at the core of the RSA’s work over the centuries has been acting with foresight, operating one step ahead, leading system change from the front.

While rightly celebrating our illustrious past, at the core of the RSA’s work over the centuries has been acting with foresight, operating one step ahead, leading system change from the front. Such are the divides across society, doing so may never have been more difficult. That makes the work of people like AY Young, musician, entrepreneur, environmental changemaker — and RSA Fellow — who is profiled in this edition, all the more important.

The ‘In conversation’ interview, with Anab Jain, puts these changemaking efforts in broader perspective. Her work at design studio Superflux is about using the power of active and immersive experiences to reimagine, and ultimately improve, our collective futures — in her words, to “make the future less of a foreign land”. And I love the way Anab describes the role the RSA can play in this collective reimagining, what she calls the “rewilding of the mind, soul and heart”.

What our Fellows are reading

We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein

Reviewed by Victoria Kinkaid

Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. Set in Warsaw in 1940, the story focuses on the life of Adam Paskow, a Jewish teacher imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazi regime...

Not the End of the World by Hannah Ritchie

Reviewed by Nia D Thomas

This book offers a totally different take on global sustainability. Not a blinkered, micro-view of planetary doom, but a considered, wise, macro-approach...

The Alternative by Nick Romeo

Reviewed by Elrica Degirmen

This book sets out to answer the age-old question, ‘Does money bring happiness?’, beginning with a summary of a short story by Leo Tolstoy (“How Much Land Does a Man Need?”) in which the protagonist learns that the pursuit of excess leads to… nothing...

Had the RSA not existed, the world today would, without question, be a poorer place in mind, soul and heart. Indeed, given the problems facing the world today — economically, societally, environmentally — we would almost certainly be convening in a Covent Garden coffee house (with a more diverse team of 11) to create something RSA-like were it not to exist. The RSA is of the past. But it is also very much for the future. Happy anniversary to us, and here’s to the next 270 years.

Andy Haldane is Chief Executive Officer at the RSA.

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