Published: May 31, 2018 By

Professor of Chinese joins group whose membership includes U.S. presidents, Darwin, Edison, Curie and scores of Nobel laureates


Paul W. Kroll. At top of the page: a Tang dynasty fresco.

Paul W. Kroll, professor of Chinese at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been elected to the prestigious American Philosophical Society, becoming the fifth member ever of the university’s faculty—and the first from the humanities—to gain this recognition.

Kroll is one of the world’s leading scholars of medieval Chinese literature, language, history and religion from the late Han through Tang periods (roughly A.D. 200 to 910). The American Philosophical Society, which is the oldest learned society in the United States, was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and honors “extraordinary accomplishments in all fields.”

“This is an unexpected and humbling honor, for which in light of the society’s long history and highly selective nature, I am very grateful,” Kroll said.

Kroll was the founding chair of CU Boulder’s Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures (now Asian Languages and Civilizations), serving in that position from 1982 to 1995. During that time, he also designed and launched the department's graduate program in Chinese.

He is the author of more than 70 scholarly articles and the author or editor of eight books, including A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. This is the first Chinese-English dictionary devoted specifically to the premodern Chinese written language, up to roughly A.D. 1000.

Besides his own research, Kroll has spent 40 years as an editor of various scholarly journals, helping to define the field and shape the presentation of Western studies on premodern China.

This is an unexpected and humbling honor, for which in light of the society’s long history and highly selective nature, I am very grateful.”

During his career, Kroll has won three fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and has also won a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has served as president of the American Oriental Society, been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies, and named to the Dayatang Chaired Professorship for one semester at Peking University.

The American Philosophical Society promotes knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources and community outreach and has played an important role in American cultural and intellectual life for more than 250 years.

Each year, 35 new members are elected to the society from all fields of scholarship and public life. Since 1900, more than 200 members of the American Philosophical Society have also been Nobel Prize winners.

In addition to former U.S. Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, other prominent American Philosophical Society members include John J. Audubon, Robert Fulton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Alexander von Humboldt, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost and George C. Marshall.

CU Boulder faculty previously elected to the American Philosophical Society include:

  • Margaret Murnane, distinguished professor of physics, MacArthur “Genius Award” winner, and fellow at JILA, a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology;
  • Tom Cech, CU Boulder Nobel laureate and distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry department;
  • Gilbert White, the late distinguished professor of geography who won the National Medal of Science in 2001 for his research on natural hazards, including floods; and
  • Kenneth Boulding, the late distinguished professor of economics and former president of the American Economic Association.

Kroll earned his PhD in far eastern languages and literatures from the University of Michigan in 1976. He joined the CU Boulder faculty in 1979 as assistant professor of Chinese after having served in that position at the University of Virginia.