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Penn Reading Project: Franklin’s Autobiography

Autobiography of Ben Franklin

The Council of Undergraduate Deans, Office of the Provost, and College Houses and Academic Services are pleased to announce that, in honor of the tercentenary of his birth, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography will be the text for this year’s Penn Reading Project (PRP). On Sunday, September 4, 2005, groups of first-year students and faculty leaders will join together to discuss the book as part of new student orientation. 

Printer and publisher, author and educator, scientist and inventor, statesman and philanthropist—and, of course, founder of the University —Benjamin Franklin was the very embodiment of the American self-made man. In 1771, at the age of 65, he sat down to write his autobiography, “having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity.” 

The result is a classic of American literature. Franklin’s ideas and values, as President Amy Gutmann writes, have shaped the modern University profoundly, “more profoundly than have the founders of any major university or college in the United States.” Franklin believed that he had been born too soon. But readers will recognize that his spirit lives on at Penn today.

A unique feature of this year’s PRP is a special edition of Franklin’s Autobiography published by University of Pennsylvania Press. This edition will include a new preface by Dr. Gutmann and an introduction by distinguished scholar and interim provost Peter Conn. The volume will also include four short essays by noted Penn professors Richard Beeman (history), Paul Guyer (philosophy), Michael Weisberg (philosophy) and Michael Zuckerman (history), as well as the text of Franklin’s Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, a document resulting in the establishment of an academy in Philadelphia that ultimately became  Penn, as well as a chronology of Franklin’s life.

PRP, now in its 15th year, was created as an introduction for incoming freshmen to academic life at Penn. The sessions, which run from 3 to 4:30 p.m., are preceded by three lectures by prominent faculty members (details will be available in early summer).  There will be other supporting activities, including a festival of related films shown on Penn Video Network. 

Past PRP books include The Quiet American (Greene), Things Fall Apart (Achebe), Candide (Voltaire), Metamorphosis (Kafka), The Woman Warrior (Kingston), Frankenstein (Shelley), Arcadia (Stoppard) and The Tipping Point (Gladwell). Information about the Penn Reading Project and its history can be found at: www.collegehouses.upenn.edu/prp/.

Faculty members in all 12 schools are invited to take part as discussion leaders. A copy of the text will be sent to discussion leaders and students in July, along with additional information about the PRP. For information and to volunteer as a leader, contact David Fox, director, PRP (215) 573-5636 or e-mail dfox@sas.upenn.edu.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 31, May 3, 2005


May 3, 2005
Volume 51 Number 31


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