Assessing Public History by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is an instrumental figure in the history of the United States. Born in 1706 in a humble family in Boston, Benjamin ascended the heights of greatness working in minor printing firms and conducting scientific experiments in lightning. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the United States with a range of titles: writer, author, statesman, postmaster, and politician. This essay examines how Benjamin Franklin might understand the function of public history. The paper goes further to describe how Franklin views democracy and whether his exhibition serves a democratic function. The paper will leverage two primary sources: Benjamin Franklin: The autobiography and other writings and his museum exhibition also called Franklin’s Tercentenary.
Franklin made lasting contributions to science and technology. It was solely because of the exploring spirit that he managed to transcend through achievements known to the few. A close analysis of Franklin’s autobiography reveals important aspects of the function of public history. It is evident from his contributions to contemporary ways of life (through innovations), as well as his role in shaping America’s history, that Franklin was pondering over the function of public history. A closer look at his varied roles could reveal that Franklin is known to define the public history function in a number of ways. Going by the simplest definition of public history, it refers to a type of history that can be accessed by public audience. It is the history that is heard, seen, read, or even interpreted by the public. The function of public history thus is to awaken people, particularly the young, to the realities surrounding democracy, politics, history, and culture (Franklin, 1961).
The achievements attained by Franklin in his attempt to improve the contemporary life of Americans can be used as a backdrop for future generations. It is through written works, as well as invented models, that the current-age student can be tweaked and motivated to think more and achieve similar success. From his autobiography, Franklin was awarded honorary degrees at Harvard and Yale and became the postmaster General of America in the year 1753 (Franklin, 1961). Referring back to this achievement, it can be comfortably stated that one of the greatest functions of public history is to remind the young generation about past achievements as well as the characters behind the success of the present. More specifically, if Franklin was to live in this century, he would understand the function of public history as the phenomenon that motivates, inspires, encourages, and tweaks people to the realities surrounding present success.
In the year 1754, a great war broke between France and England. Commonly known as France and Indian war, the confrontation was an obstacle to both enterprise and industrial developments between these two countries. It was solely through Franklin’s intervention that harmony was instilled. Immediately after breaking the war, Franklin began drafting proposals outlining ways through which funds could be raised for colonial defenses (Franklin, 1961). When analyzed from a broad perspective, the proposals added knowledge and shed light on important factors.
Franklin thus played a great role in organizing the war efforts. The above assertion reveals the function of public history. Though Franklin’s intervention, it can be clearly claimed that the other significant objective of public history is to refer back to the models used by great personalities in restoring harmony in society. The function of public history is to remember past efforts of reconciliation and use them to model future mechanisms of peace and unity. If Franklin was to live during this time, he would most probably apply some tested and proven political methodologies to solve existing societal calamities.
Public history can pragmatically be used as a tool for democracy. The development of public history reflects the progress of critical aspects of society. From Franklin’s autobiography, it can be seen that Franklin’s indulgence in continuous campaigning for human rights and unity is a catalyst that helped shape the politics of America (Franklin, 1961). For once, slavery was linked to the respect of human life. It was through Franklin’s intervention that the government saw the need to appreciate everyone and value human life above all the things. The character was paramount in defining America’s ethos as a link between hard work and community spirit. Through his intervention, America could for once understand both tolerant and scientific values of enlightenment. This was what democracy meant. It is clear thus that the public history of America was shaped by a character that helped to advance the concept of democracy. Therefore another function of public history is to advance and protect the democracy of a country and its people.
How Benjamin Franklin Understands Democracy
From the book Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography and other works, it is seen that Franklin founded the America Philosophical Society. His objective was to enable men of science and innovations to communicate and share ideas with one another. In London, he strongly opposed the Stamp Act. He also presented the case of the colonies and helped advance many political interests across England and the United States. Democracy, being a system of government-controlled by all eligible representatives, is evident to meet Franklin’s understanding and knowledge. Franklin knew that the government was supposed to be controlled by a team well-known and supported by the people.
He defined America’s ethos in a broad perspective capturing critical aspects such as hard work, determination, community spirit and practical values of thrift. By strongly opposing authoritarianism, Franklin succinctly understood the meaning of democracy (Franklin, 1961). From his autobiography, it is argued that he championed the interests of the many and struggled to create a way where many agreed. According to him, democracy was more than appointing a political leader (Franklin, 1961). Walter Issacson and Henry Steel are popular historians who back Franklin’s democratic vision stating ‘Franklin was the most accomplished Americans of his time with a polished set of skills that helped him invent the type of society United States would become (Franklin, 1961). His view about democracy was a society that valued fairness, equality, justice, and humanness.
Does Franklin’s Exhibition Serve a Democratic Function?
Benjamin Franklin Museum Exhibit is an iconic building at the heart of London. Derelict for over 20 years and never opened to the public, the building serves as his home (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). According to popular literature and scholarly articles including the autobiography, the building reminds society a lot. History students and children take trips to the exhibition and meet one of the greatest sculptures and paintings of the father of America. The tercentenary is also used by historians to advance research on sociology, literature, and art (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). Well-decorated and adorned with a touch of science and history, the exhibit is one of this kind. Franklin in a letter to Joseph Banks stated the importance of furnishing Europe with nice instrumentals, academies, and the spirit of the experiment (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). It is from this letter the exhibit was made. The management responsible for construction observes this was the best way to engage the Americans in the life and death of one of the founding fathers of their country.
While examining democracy, it is evident that this exhibition serves a critical function. First and foremost, tracing Franklin’s contributions to the American political and civil way of life, the exhibition awakens people to democracy. Any infringement in politics, society, culture, and history is corrected and repaired by the presence of this exhibition. It is clear thus that the building is not only an entertaining and a vacation spot: it also serves a democratic function. Further, when you examine the magnitude of its reach, you realize it is erected in London and thus uniting Europe and America. For once, there is a figure that is built in another country than the one it represents (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). More specifically, Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary is located in Lancaster although Franklin was American.
This binds the two countries creating meaningful yet democratic ties (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). There are many sections in the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary; Trivia, Lesson Plans, and Artefacts. The exhibition also features educational resources with important quick links for politicians and scientists. By offering a range of educational materials with a critical focus on governance, history, politics, and civics, the exhibition serves a democratic function. Overall, the tercentenary, other than being an iconic building, dates back to over 300 years ago. This is significant as it reminds the Americans of the journey the United States has traveled to attain the heights of greatness and superiority (Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Federal Commission, 2007). However most importantly, just like many other public history monuments and exhibitions, Franklin’s Tercentenary serves a democratic function.
The paper has examined how Benjamin Franklin might understand the function and objective of public history. By looking at the function of public history from credible sources, the paper creates insight into the extent of public history. It is through history and democracy that future generations can learn and appreciate the genesis of their country. Public history also allows the public to fast-track political and historical developments of their country. The essay, therefore, was instrumental in examining the function of public history through the well-known founding father.
Why I chose this Prompt
Benjamin Franklin is an instrumental figure in the political history of the United States. Personally, I find this prompt insightful. Writing about Franklin, his life and achievements, allows me to add knowledge and increase understanding of history and politics. I also found the prompt awarding because of the convenience of accessing information from myriad sources including the Franklin Exhibition and his autobiography.