Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I become an historian

t is amazing that there has been almost no scholarly work focused on the newspaper published by James and Ben Franklin, the New-England Courant.

According to a Franklin biographer, there are reproductions of the Courant existing in the British Museum (now the British Library) that contain notes by Benjamin Franklin indicating who wrote which article(s) - the contributors almost all wrote under pen names. And I had it confirmed for me by a researcher at the British Library recently that nobody has ever yet cataloged these articles with authorial references. They only exist in the original raw form.

The biographer Tourtellot, mentions various of the authors and their articles, but there's no way to know if he provides all authors and articles - he mentions them randomly in a chapter of his Ben Franklin biography. Certainly nothing as clear as a table.

How is this possible? The New-England Courant is widely regarded as the first independent newspaper in what would become the United States. And yet nobody has understaken a scholarly review of its run. You'd think the fact that it was run by a brother of one of the most important of all the founding fathers would guarantee its being studied.

But it's possible that this is the reason it is not studied - the life and career of Benjamin Franklin overshadowing all other Franklin-related activities.

Well  if credentialed historians are not going to do it, it looks like I will have to do it myself. In between my day job and my various other projects of course. Maybe someone should nominate me for a MacArthur grant...
The illustration above was used for the drop-cap of the leading article of all issues (that I've seen so far)  of the New-England Courant.