Ben’s Book Club: ‘Slave Empire’ by Padraic X. Scanlan

Wednesday February23 2022, 5pm GMT/12pm ET. Register here. 

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

This month we will be talking to Padraic X. Scanlan about his book ‘Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain,’ which puts enslaved people at the centre the British empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

In intimate, human detail, the chapters show how British imperial power and industrial capitalism were inextricable from plantation slavery. With vivid original research and careful synthesis of innovative historical scholarship, Slave Empire shows that British freedom and British slavery were made together. 

Dr Padraic X. Scanlan is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto and a Research Associate at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. He has also held appointments at the London School of Economics and Harvard University. 

Buy your copy of ‘Slave Empire’ here. 

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. 


Book Launch: ‘Washington at the Plow’ by Bruce A. Ragsdale

Tuesday 23 November, 1pm ET/6pm GMT. Register here to attend virtually or here to attend in person. 

Bruce A. Ragsdale will discuss his book, Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery which depicts the “first farmer of America” as a leading practitioner of the New Husbandry, a transatlantic movement that spearheaded advancements in crop rotation.

A tireless experimentalist, Washington pulled up his tobacco and switched to wheat production, leading the way for the rest of the country. He filled his library with the latest agricultural treatises and pioneered land-management techniques that he hoped would guide small farmers, strengthen agrarian society, and ensure the prosperity of the nation.

Slavery was a key part of Washington’s pursuits. He saw enslaved field workers and artisans as means of agricultural development and tried repeatedly to adapt slave labour to new kinds of farming. To this end, he devised an original and exacting system of slave supervision. But Washington eventually found that forced labor could not achieve the productivity he desired. His inability to reconcile ideals of scientific farming and rural order with race-based slavery led him to reconsider the traditional foundations of the Virginia plantation. As Bruce Ragsdale shows, it was the inefficacy of chattel slavery, as much as moral revulsion at the practice, that informed Washington’s famous decision to free his slaves after his death.

Bruce A. Ragsdale served for twenty years as director of the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center. The author of A Planters’ Republic: The Search for Economic Independence in Revolutionary Virginia, he has been a fellow at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon and the International Center for Jefferson Studies.

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. 

Ben’s Book Club: ‘Running from Bondage’ by Karen Cook-Bell

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

Karen Cook-Bell, Associate Professor of History at Bowie State University, will discuss her book, Running from Bondage, recounting the important stories of enslaved women, who comprised one-third of all runaways, and the ways in which they fled, or attempted to flee, bondage during and after the Revolutionary War.   

Karen Cook Bell’s enlightening and original contribution to the study of slave resistance in eighteenth-century America explores the individual and collective lives of these women and girls of diverse circumstances, while also providing details about what led them to escape. She demonstrates that there were in fact two wars being waged during the Revolutionary Era: a political revolution for independence from Great Britain and a social revolution for emancipation and equality in which Black women played an active role. Running from Bondage broadens and complicates how we study and teach this momentous event, one that emphasizes the chances taken by these ‘Black founding mothers’ and the important contributions they made to the cause of liberty.

Karen Cook Bell is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History and Government Department at Bowie State University. Her areas of specialization include slavery and the slave trade, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and women’s history. Her scholarship has appeared in the Journal of African American HistoryGeorgia Historical QuarterlyPassport; Black Perspectives; U.S. West-Africa: Interaction and Relations (2008); Before Obama: A Reappraisal of Black Reconstruction Era (2012); Converging Identities: Blackness in the Contemporary Diaspora (2013); and Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (2014).  Her writings have also appeared in The Washington Post, History News Network, and Ms. Magazine. She is the author of Claiming Freedom: Race, Kinship,  and Land in Nineteenth Century Georgia (University of South Carolina Press, 2018), which won the Georgia Board of Regents Excellence in Research Award; and Running from Bondage: Enslaved Women and Their Remarkable Fight for Freedom in Revolutionary America (Cambridge University Press, 2021).  She is a former AAUW Dissertation Fellow.

You can 0rder a hardcopy or e-book here (UK) or here (US).

Watch the full talk below:


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:

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.