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Benjamin Franklin’s American Enlightenment: Documenting Early American Science at the American Philosophical Society

2020
Online Exhibition

Between July and December 2020, NEH CARES funds will support four Fellows and several APS staff working on Benjamin Franklin’s American Enlightenment: Documenting Early American Science at the American Philosophical Society. To learn more about the different projects, please click on the sections below.

The goal of Franklin’s American Enlightenment is to enhance understandings of the importance of science and scientific learning in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rapidly expanding interest in scientific thought and experimentation was fueled between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment by a community of thinkers who deemed themselves the “Republic of Letters.” The common desire to advance knowledge for the benefit of mankind knit together an imagined community which transcended religious and political divisions. Benjamin Franklin’s founding of the American Philosophical Society in 1743 ensured that North Americans would play a key role in the most important scientific discoveries.

The APS’s enduring mission emerged out of the thinking of these scholars and continues to inspire today. The APS holds a vast amount of material documenting the Society’s and its Members’ central role in 18th-century transatlantic scientific discourse. The original sources, however, remain difficult to use. NEH CARES funding allowed postdoctoral Fellows and staff to continue work on important digital projects and an exhibition that were interrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19 to make these materials accessible to broad audiences.