Benjamin Franklin Papers
Claire Arcenas and Caroline Winterer
Our project explores the nature of Benjamin Franklin’s correspondence network during the “London Decades” (1757-1775)— some of the most formative years in Franklin’s life, when he spent much of his time away from Philadelphia in and around London.
Like other Mapping the Republic of Letters projects, ours has included numerous phases. One of the first issues we confronted as early as 2008 was the need to limit our scope in terms of the volume of letters we dealt with at one time. After a few years of careful and copious data transcription of the over 15,000 letters that Benjamin Franklin either wrote or received over the course of his life, the entirety of Franklin’s correspondence proved too large a mapping endeavor for our first go at it. In 2011, we stepped back to examine our goals for converting Franklin’s correspondence into “data” (the easily computer-digested dates, correspondents, locations of letters sent and received). What questions did we hope to answer by compiling such “data” from Franklin’s letters? Did such questions lend themselves to an examination of a smaller set of letters?
After much deliberation, the Franklin team decided to limit our focus—for the time being—to the years between 1757 and 1775. During these “London Decades” as we term them, Franklin conducted important business of the American colonies abroad, developed a robust international reputation, and met many leading intellectual luminaries of his day, including David Hume and Lord Kames. In the years since we began the intensive processing of Franklin’s correspondence between 1757 and 1775, we have formulated new and important questions about the changing nature of Franklin’s correspondence network. These questions lend themselves to the deeper and more precise nature of our investigation now structured around the nearly two decades Franklin spent abroad.