An academy is a "gentlemen's club", of sorts, for the greatest minds of a nation to gather for discourse, lectures, debates and some very nice dinners.
Academies concern themselves with all aspects of national, cultural and scientific life. From the most abstract of mathematical conundrums to the collection of natural wonders and the study of languages and lexicography, nothing is outside the interests of academicians. The members are, by and large, selected by their peers, although individual governments do use their influence to secure places for worthy men - and these learned societies are not above granting membership to royalty in the hope of securing patronage!
Large projects were matters of national prestige. The Academic Françoise was charged with the collation of an official French dictionary. The epic voyage of Captain Cook, RN, in 1768-71 was partly influenced by the desire of the British Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun from Tahiti. Other nations sent observers to, among other places, Canada and Siberia - Cook got the nicest destination! By observing the event from different sides of the Earth, parallax made it possible to calculate the size of the solar system and establish the astronomical unit.
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