2006 Penn Humanities Forum Essay
"If Ben Had Had His Way"
Call for Applications
Essay Contest in Honor of
the 300th Anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's Birth
Cosponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum
and the Marvin and Sybil Weiner Fund of the Penn Library
Open to all Penn undergraduates in any school.
Essay contest deadline: Friday, January
First Prize: $1000
Runners-Up (2): $500 each
Questions? Please contact Jennifer
Conway at the
Penn Humanities Forum, 215.898.8220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2006 PHF-Weiner Essay Prizes
First Prize: Tal Raviv, School of Engineering
and Applied Sciences '09, Chemical Engineering. Essay:
College '06, English. Essay: "Franklin's Ivy Leagues
and the Junto of Education"
College '07, Biological Basis of Behavior. Essay: "Of
Virtue, Wit, and Wisdom"
Prizes awarded at the February 24, 2006 Symposium,
"If Ben Had Had His Way," in honor of the
300th Anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's Birth. (Program
pdf; right click on link to download to desktop.)
Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding
trustees of the Academy in Philadelphia, which became
the University of Pennsylvania. In creating the school's
charter, he insisted that the Academy train students
in English grammar and oratory—a revolutionary
move given that institutions in his day taught only
the classical languages. Over the years, Franklin presented
the rationale for his position in essays such as his
"Idea of an English School" and "Proposals
Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsilvania [sic]."
Education, he argued, should cultivate a person's thought
and expression and provide knowledge of practical subjects
such as mathematics, geography, history, logic, and
moral philosophy. With this background one could become
an effective citizen: "to serve Mankind, one's
Country, Friends and Family...which Ability should be
the great Aim and End of all Learning."
Near the end of his life, Franklin concluded
that the Academy had consistently violated its charter,
slighting English in favor of Latin instruction. He
demanded that the English section of the school break
away: "claiming an equitable partition of our joint
stock, we wish to execute the plan they have so long
defeated, and afford the public the means of a complete
English education." Though this demand was not
met, in time English did replace Latin and Greek as
the language of instruction at Penn and the curriculum
came to include the full panoply of disciplines. In
other words, even though Ben did not "have his
way," time brought about the kind of institution
he had envisaged.
Or did it? Franklin was advocating much
more than the choice of one language or discipline over
others. He was advancing a controversial view of a university's
relation to tradition, class, citizenship, and speculative
knowledge. Where do you think Penn stands on these matters
today? Where do you think Ben Franklin would have liked
Penn to stand? Whatever your major—from history
to engineering, English to marketing—this essay
contest is an opportunity for you to explore the meaning
of a Penn education in light of its founder's ideals.
What would Penn be like if Ben had had his way?
Penn undergraduates in any school are
invited to submit an essay of approximately ten double-spaced
pages (c. 3,000 words), suitable for delivery as a 20-minute
lecture. The winner will receive $1,000 and the opportunity
to present the lecture in a faculty
symposium on Benjamin Franklin. Two runners-up will
receive $500 each.
The faculty committee judging the award
will be looking for qualities dear to both Franklin
and Penn: depth of research, clarity
of expression, and originality of thought. To
ensure fairness, students should not identify themselves
or their majors on their submission, but should register
a pseudonym with the staff of the Penn Humanities Forum.* Submissions (in double-spaced hard copy) must
be received at the Penn Humanities Forum, 3619 Locust
Walk, no later than January 20, 2006.
*Students will need to identify themselves,
along with their school and class, when registering their
pseudonym. This is strictly for administrative purposes
and will be shielded from the committee until the awards
in the Age of Franklin' (be sure to check out the
'text & documents' and 'essays' sections).
Our Founder' (with great links).
Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary official site.
gateway page on the Tercentenary (includes event
courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
University of Pennsylvania and The Benjamin Franklin
Top: Benjamin Franklin L.L.D., M. Thomas, Publisher,
Charles Goodman (1796-1835) and Robert Piggot (1737-1797),
engravers, David Martin (1737-
1797), painter, 1818.