Featured Intern: Molly Shannon, A Summer of Exploration

Hello, I’m Molly Shannon! I’m an intern with the American Philosophical Society’s Center for Digital Scholarship through the Explore America Summer Internship Program by the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. This summer, I’ve been working with the Benjamin Franklin Postal Records Project. This multi-year open data project focuses on analyzing and making Franklin’s account books from his tenure as Postmaster of Philadelphia and later as Postmaster of British Colonial North America available online. In particular, I digitize and transcribe these priceless, yet often overlooked, resources. 

postal book
Letters received into the Post-Office, at Philadelphia.

When I first heard of this amazing opportunity, I was fascinated by the insights that this project could offer into 18th-century colonial America. The chance to handle and analyze 18th-century documents has been a dream of mine since before I started at Washington College, especially papers of a historic figure such as Benjamin Franklin!. 

Each of my days at the APS was spent immersed in the Franklin Postal Account books, which span from 1737 to around 1768. These books provide a valuable perspective on mid-18th-century colonial American postal systems, society, and Philadelphia. Most entries in these account books are entirely handwritten, containing names, dates, and the amounts of post received and sent. I was tasked with digitizing and transcribing these account books in order to make them digitally accessible for scholars and the general public for the first time. Before each transcription begins, each account book is digitized in the Digitization Lab at the APS. Each scan is then checked for quality before being uploaded into the APS Digital Library. I have loved learning the valuable skill of digitization, which has a wide variety of applications in history! 

postal book
Example of entries in Franklin's Postal Record.

Although digitization is the first step in this project, transcription requires more time and a detail-oriented approach than digitization as each page of an account book is a treasure map of information about 18th-century colonial America and its postal system. The transcription of these books helped me to achieve my longtime goal of being able to accurately decipher 18th-century handwriting, a valuable skill for my future career. 

In total, I have transcribed close to 6 account books this summer. While poring over each of these records, I came across some interesting finds including names of people such as Cornelia Bradford, a Philadelphia bookseller; Mordecai Lloyd, a slave owner who was also Sheriff of Philadelphia in 1744; and Magnus Falconar, who taught navigation, writing, math, and astronomy in the late 1730s. 

My internship with the APS has given me valuable opportunities to gain and refine important skills for my future career including digitization and reading, transcribing, and analyzing 18th-century handwriting. I have also learned quite a bit about postal history, colonial Philadelphia, and digital history. Besides learning these amazing skills, my internship here has brought me many friendships and networking opportunities.

History has fascinated me for as long as I can remember because the similarities and differences between the past and the present offer endless intrigue. This spectacular internship has given me a chance to experience and learn the everyday activities performed at a research library and archive. Although I am not entirely certain what career path I will take in the future, my summer in Philadelphia has helped me to narrow down my options and hone in on what I want to accomplish in my career. A possible career in archives and libraries would allow me to blend my passion for history, reading, research, and helping others. But of course, I don’t know what the future holds for me yet.  All in all, I have had a marvelous summer interning with the American Philosophical Society!

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