Ben’s Book Club: ‘Incomparable World’ by S I Martin

Join us for the October instalment of Ben’s Digital Book Club, a monthly virtual gathering looking at themes relating to Benjamin Franklin, the 18th century, and American history.

This month S I Martin will do a reading and discuss his book Incomparable World which reimagines 1780s London, showcasing the untold stories of African-American soldiers grappling with their post-war freedom. Bursting with energy and vivid detail, Incomparable World boldly uncovers a long-buried narrative of black Britain.

S. I. Martin is a museums consultant and author, specialising in Black British history and literature. He is the author of several books of historical fiction and non-fiction for teenage and adult readers, including Britain’s Slave Trade (written for Channel 4 to tie in with its documentary of the same name), Jupiter Amidshops, Jupiter Williams and Incomparable World.

You can order a copy or e-book here (UK) or here (US).   

Watch the full talk below:

Robert H Smith Lecture in American Democracy: Justin Webb

Monday 8 November 2020, 5pm GMT/12pm ET. Register here.  

Our annual Robert H Smith Lecture in American Democracy will once again be held in partnership with the LSE Department of Government. This year, the lecture will be on the theme of “Is American Democracy Under Threat?” with journalist Justin Webb. 

Justin Webb was a roving foreign correspondent for the BBC for many years reporting from wars in the Gulf and Bosnia, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of Apartheid in South Africa. He was Europe Correspondent when the Euro was introduced before moving the US where he became the first BBC North America Editor. He was based in Washington DC from 2002 to 2009 before returning to present the Today Programme on Radio Four. He is a regular writer on US affairs for the Times and the Unherd website. He was educated at the LSE, graduating with a BSc (Econ) in 1983.

Ben’s Book Club: ‘The Cabinet’ by Dr Lindsay M. Chervinsky

Wednesday 3 November, 1pm ET/5pm GMT. Register here 

Join us for the November instalment of Ben’s Digital Book Club, a monthly virtual gathering looking at themes relating to Benjamin Franklin, the 18th century, and American history.

Dr Lindsay M. Chervinsky, Senior Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, and Professorial Lecturer at the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University, will discuss her book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, which reveals how George Washington created one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government.  

Dr Chervinsky is a historian of Early America, the presidency, and the government — especially the president’s cabinet. She produces history that speaks to fellow scholars as well as a larger public audience. Dr Chervinsky believes history can be exhilarating and she works to share her passion with as many people as possible. Her research can be found in publications from op-eds to books, speaking on podcasts and other media, and teaching for every kind of audience.

You can order a hardcopy or e-book here (UK) or here (US).

Join us even if you don’t have a chance to read the book by the event date! 

This event is free of charge but please consider making an online donation here to support the work of Benjamin Franklin House. 

Transatlantic Slavery Symposium

Daily panel discussions: Monday 9 – Friday 13 August, 5pm BST/12pm ET.

Keynote panel: Wednesday 11 August, 7pm BST/2pm ET.

Free registration here.

The Transatlantic Slavery Symposium is a joint venture between the Robert H. Smith Scholarship Centre at Benjamin Franklin House in London, the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Our aim is to bring together scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to address the lasting impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade through panel discussions on themes ranging from its historical foundations and development in the Revolutionary Atlantic world to current best practices in the museums and heritage sector. We hope that by addressing this complex topic from a historical and contemporary perspective, that we can spark further discussions on how to bring stories of enslaved people to the forefront of public history internationally.

Capitalism and Slavery

Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 12:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. GMT

Keynote: Public Programming and Interpreting Slavery in the Founding Era

Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 2:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. GMT

Historic Sites Interpreting Slavery

Thursday, August 12, 2021, 12:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. GMT

Ben’s Book Club: Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a University with Andrew O’Shaughnessy

This month we will be talking to Dr Andrew O’Shaughnessy about his book “The Illimitable Freedom of the Human Mind,” Thomas Jefferson’s Idea of a University’ which tells story of how Thomas Jefferson developed his ideas for education in early America and how these ideas continue to have relevance to public education in the United States to this very day. 

Thomas Jefferson was directly involved in every aspect in the creation of the University of Virginia. From the physical space to the legislation and curriculum, Jefferson stood firm in his belief in a modern 18th century education system. Although his ideas were opposed at first by his fellow politicians, Jefferson proved that he had a unique and progressive vision that can still be felt today.  

Andrew O’Shaughnessy is Vice President of Monticello, the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Professor of History at the University of Virginia.  He is the author of An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).  His most recent book The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) received eight national awards including the New York Historical Society American History Book Prize, the George Washington Book Prize, and the Society of Military History Book Prize. 

You can pre-order a hardcopy or e-book here (UK) or here (US).   

Watch the full talk below:

(SOLD OUT) Open House Weekend 2021

Saturday 4 – Sunday 5 September, 10:30am – 4.30pm

Open House London is the capital’s largest annual festival of architecture and design. This annual event allows the public to cross the threshold of many of London’s most interesting buildings, including Grade I listed, 1730s Benjamin Franklin House.

Free entry, but pre-booking required.

Book your free slot here

Fulbright Lecture: Spectacle and Social Order in ‘Scientific’ Prints

In the second half of the eighteenth century, scientific demonstrations, sponsored by Benjamin Franklin, the Midlands-based Lunar Society, and others, were popular entertainments that said as much about social order as they did about science and technology. Depicted in paintings and popular prints, the social message of these demonstrations was elevated even more. Visual references created witty social commentary, and invited a variety of audiences to find relevance in the artworks. In this talk, Prof. Louise Siddons will take a close look at mezzotints by Valentine Green after Joseph Wright and others, asking how changing audiences affected the interpretation of the imagery in his prints.

Dr. Siddons is Professor in Art History at Oklahoma State University whose research interests focus on the history of printmaking and photography, particularly in relation to representations of race, racialization, gender and sexuality. Her Fulbright award supports the completion of her book manuscript which will examine American photographer Laura Gilpin’s 1968 book, “The Enduring Navaho.” Siddons will examine her position within the intersectional politics of twentieth-century photography, Indigeneity and queerness, as well as discuss the propositions Gilpin made for both queer and Native self-determination and sovereignty through the book’s visuals.

Watch the full talk below:

Franklin in Portraits: Charles Willson Peale and His Museum

To celebrate the launch of our virtual exhibition, Franklin in Portraits, join us for a series of talks about Benjamin Franklin’s most famous portraits. We continue our series with a discussion on this Charles Willson Peale portrait painted in 1785. It was ultimately made for his collection of portraits of Famous Americans for his museum in Independence Hall. Karie Diethorn, Senior Curator and Chief of Museum Branch of the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, will discuss with Dr George Boudreau the significance of this portrait and the Peale Museum. Franklin and Peale first met in London in 1767 and formed a friendship over their shared interest in natural sciences.

Watch here:

Karie Diethorn has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and medieval studies from Penn State University and a Masters degree in American history and a certificate in museum studies from the University of Delaware.

Since 1994, she has managed Independence National Historical Park’s museum operation as chief curator.  She has taught historic site management as an Associate Professor in the University of Delaware graduate museum studies program and museum collections management as a Visiting Lecturer in Philadelphia’s University of the Arts graduate museum studies program.  She is co-author of the catalog History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park (2001) and a contributor to the anthology of essays in Quaker Aesthetics, Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption (2003).  Her most recent exhibit project is “People of Independence 1750 to 1840”, the permanent fine arts at Independence National Historical Park.

Dr George Boudreau is a cultural historian of early Anglo-America, specializing in the history of Philadelphia, the work of Benjamin Franklin, material culture, and public history. Boudreau was the founding editor of the journal Early American Studies, and has won six major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was a fellow at Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in 2019-20 and has previously completed fellowships at the Jamestown Rediscovery and the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Winterthur Museum and Library, the American Philosophical Society, and the David Library of the American Revolution. A 1998 Ph.D. from Indiana University, he is currently senior research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is a member of the Academic Advisory Panel for Benjamin Franklin House.

Digital Book Launch: The Howe Dynasty by Julie Flavell

Join us for a very special digital book launch and Q&A with Julie Flavell to celebrate her newest book The Howe Dynasty: The Untold Story of a Military Family and the Women Behind Britain’s Wars for America 

In December 1774, Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe, the sister of British Admiral Richard and General William Howe, in a London drawing-room for “half a dozen Games of Chess.” As Julie Flavell reveals, the games concealed a matter of the utmost diplomatic urgency, a last-ditch attempt to forestall the outbreak of the American War of Independence. Aware that the Howes, both the men and the women, have seemed impenetrable to historians, Flavell investigated the letters of Caroline Howe, which have been overlooked for centuries. Using Caroline’s correspondence and other revelatory documents, Flavell provides a compelling reinterpretation of England’s famous family over four wars, centering on their enigmatic roles in the American Revolution. The Howe Dynasty interweaves action-packed stories of North American military campaigns—including the Battle of Bunker Hill and Long Island—with parlor-room intrigues back in England, creating a riveting narrative and a long overdue reassessment of the entire family. The Howe Dynasty forces us to reimagine the Revolutionary War in ways that would have been previously inconceivable. 

Born in Massachusetts, Julie Flavell has pursued a lifelong interest in Anglo-American relationships as reflected in her first book, When London Was Capital of America. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Flavell lives in Britain. 

Watch the full talk below:

Virtual Talk: The Trials of James Graham in the Revolutionary Atlantic World

During the final years of the American Revolution, the Royal Navy tried to impress a formerly enslaved man named James Graham into military service. Graham’s legal battle to avoid conscription made its way to the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, where the judges had to decide whether or not Graham’s past life as an enslaved mariner could be used to justify service as a free man to king and country.

In this talk, Dr. James P. Ambuske, Digital History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and co-director of the Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive Project at the University of Virginia Law Library, will discuss Graham’s journey from slavery to freedom and the questions that his case raised in an increasingly complicated revolutionary world.