Unit 3: The First American?

Due date: Monday, December 10 (Section 01F); Tuesday, December 11 (Section 002)

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For this unit, our main autobiography is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which chronicles Franklin’s life from his birth through the late 1750s. As part of our study, you will write a paper that compares Franklin’s experience during his life to the way in which he described those same events in his autobiography. In addition to developing your skill in crafting a historical argument using an autobiography, the assignment will encourage you to learn the basics of historical research in primary sources. Finally, it will require you to develop your understanding of how the historical context in which the authors lived and wrote shaped how they presented themselves and their experiences.

You should select one major theme/event from Franklin’s life that he discussed in some detail in the Autobiography. You will then do research in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin online around the time the event occurred and find letters and other documents in which Franklin and others discussed that event. We will discuss how to do this research in class.

Based on your analysis of the documents and the Autobiography, you should craft an argument that explains your comparison between the life that Franklin lived and the way he discussed that life in later decades.

In your discussion, you must use as evidence at least four documents from the online edition of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. In addition, you should use any lecture/class notes and secondary readings as they are relevant to your argument.

Themes and Events (select one)

  • Scientific experiments
  • The printing trade
  • Publishing a newspaper
  • Publishing an almanac
  • Founding civic institutions
  • Education
  • Pennsylvania politics
  • Post Office
  • Native Americans
  • Military affairs


  • The paper is worth 225 points total. The rough draft, which will be workshopped in class on Weds., Dec. 5 or Thurs., Dec. 6, will be worth 25 points, and the final draft will be worth 200 points.
  • The paper should be 1,000-1,500 words (excluding footnotes).
  • You must use as evidence The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and at least four documents from the online Papers of Benjamin Franklin.
  • You should use any other readings from the syllabus and references to lecture notes as they relate to your argument.
  • You must cite all evidence, including both readings and lecture notes, in Chicago style.
  • You may not use any outside sources for reference or evidence.
  • The paper will be graded according to the course paper rubric.

Citation Guide

First Use

Joyce E. Chaplin, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Norton Critical Editions (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012), 45.

Michael Warner, “Franklin: The Representational Politics of the Man of Letters,” in Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, ed. Joyce E. Chaplin (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012), 361.

Joseph Locke and Ben Wright, eds., The American Yawp, ch. 10, section V, http://www.americanyawp.com/text/10-religion-and-reform/#V_Antislavery_and_Abolitionism.

Joseph M. Adelman, “Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum America,” Lecture, Oct. 12, 2017.

NOTE: The website for the Franklin Papers gives citation information for each document in the right-hand column of the page for that document.


Subsequent Use

Chaplin, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, 72.

Warner, “Representational Politics,” 378.

Locke and Wright, eds., The American Yawp, ch. 11, section IV, http://www.americanyawp.com/text/10-religion-and-reform/#V_Antislavery_and_Abolitionism.

Adelman, “Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum America.”