Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World

benjamin franklin: in search of a better world

Online Site Support Notebook: Exhibit Programming Ideas & Resources

Programming Requirements: An opening reception for "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" and two humanities-oriented public programs related to exhibition themes are the minimum requirement for host libraries. The reception and one humanities program may be combined. Humanities programs may include, but are not limited to lectures, discussions, debates, film series with discussion led by scholars, music and dance presentations with historical content, and seminars.

Please send an invitation for all exhibition opening events to:

Bruce Cole, Chairman

National Endowment for the Humanities

1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20506

Ideas for program topics:

  • Benjamin Franklin and Religious Liberty: Franklin accepted all faiths and had a key role in forging a pluralistic America.

  • Benjamin Franklin and Popular Culture: The appropriation and use of Franklin's image and name to promote a wide range of products, services and ideas serves as a springboard to reflect on and explore his role in American culture 300 years after his birth.

  • Benjamin Franklin--Scientist and Medical Investigator: In addition to his kite and key experiments, Franklin tried to cure paralysis with electricity, and was also interested in typhus, malaria, yellow fever, smallpox, lead poisoning, gout and kidney stones. Franklin spent time in the laboratories of the most important chemists of his day and his writings influenced many thinkers who followed him, such as Robert Malthus, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx.

  • Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father: Franklin's achievements as a statesman throughout the Revolutionary period.

  • Franklin and the Achievement of American Independence: Through a combination of charm, political acumen, guile and genuine love of France and the French people, Franklin negotiated the dangerous diplomatic waters during America's peace negotiations with England, France, and Spain.

  • Benjamin Franklin, Secret Agent. Franklin was important in establishing an intelligence network for the United States during the Revolutionary War, as a founder of the Committee on Secret Correspondence, and when he served as U.S. Ambassador to France. He was known by the code number 72 or to the British intelligence service as "Moses" and his Ambassadorial residence in the suburban Paris village of Passy was believed to be the nation's first intelligence "station." This web site may give you some ideas for a program on Benjamin Franklin, Secret Agent:

  • Benjamin Franklin and self improvement: Focus on Franklin's chart of 13 virtues -- how do 21st century American citizens view these virtues and rate their importance? What are the differences between Franklin and people living three hundred years later regarding personal standards of ethics and morality?

  • "What Would Benjamin Franklin Like and Dislike About the World Today?" (Would he have taken to PCs, the Internet, Blackberrys?) What role might he play in government today? Is there anyone around like him today?

  • Do a series of programs, each based on a different, pithy Franklin quote about national security, religion, ethics, personal morality, government power to show how insightful Franklin was and how relevant his thinking is to important national issues today. Have a panel discussion and open audience discussion for each program.

  • Libraries hosting other exhibitions have done an exhibit "teaser" event one to two months before the exhibit arrives to generate interest -- events included lectures, films, and readings from the speeches and writings of the subjects of the exhibit.

  • Sponsor a One Book, One Community program during the exhibit using a popular treatment of the Benjamin Franklin story (one title for adults, one for young adults, one for children); or a reading and discussion series with two to three books about exhibit themes (see bibliographies in the yellow tab section of this notebook).

  • Find people in your community who have family stories, diaries, artifacts from the Revolutionary era. Create related exhibits or ask them to speak at a program. Tape their stories.

  • Collect unused eyeglasses (especially bifocals!) in honor of Franklin.

  • Develop programs on dances of the 18th century that Benjamin Franklin might have known in America, as well as Europe.

  • Focus on Franklin's attitudes toward slavery throughout his life. He became active in the Abolitionist movement only at the end of his life. How did his attitudes differ from those of other prominent figures in the U.S. at the time?

  • The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia sponsored a program a few years ago called "Who's Your Favorite Founding Father?" -- in which a panel of biographers of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin defended their opinions about who was the foremost Founder. Perhaps libraries could find historians, or patrons themselves, to do the same thing.

  • Franklin founded
    The Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. Use this as a jumping off point for considering what role newspapers played in the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary era, and comparing how people got their news then with how they get it today.

  • How was Franklin's portrait chosen for the $100 bill? What contributions did Franklin make to the monetary system of the United States.?

  • Program about your local history and how it relates to the Revolutionary War and Founding period of U.S. history. Did Franklin ever visit your area? What other founders came to your area or are connected with it in some way? What was the reaction of your region to the Constitution? To the debate about how American government should be organized?

  • How was Franklin viewed in the United States and abroad during his own lifetime? Was he as popular then as he is now? Why?

  • Organize programs around the biographies and works of the men and women Franklin knew who are mentioned in the exhibit, and about their relationship with Franklin. John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are obvious examples.

  • Ask good public speakers to read one or more of Franklin's writings during the period of the exhibit. Have a historian on hand to interpret them and put them in context.

  • Sponsor a four- or five-book discussion series while the exhibit is on display, using books from the lists in the resources section or others you think will be well received.

  • Have a program featuring music and dance of the Revolutionary era, with costumes and dance lessons.

  • Are there any Franklin descendants in your community? Find others who have family stories, diaries, artifacts from the Founding era of the U.S. Create related exhibits or ask them to speak at a program. Tape their stories.

  • Franklin was very interested in medicine and in finding ways to treat disease. He was an advocate of vegetarianism, swimming, and regular exercise. This web site offers ideas for programs content: Offer a program on Franklin's accomplishments in the field of medicine.

Theatre, music and performance


    "Currently Franklin: The Story of a Paper Boy& ... " is a multimedia program for all ages which follows Franklin from his early childhood through many of his accomplishments as printer, inventor, and diplomat. A set made entirely of paper, dancing printing presses, giant buckle shoes, ethereal movers, comic actors, light and shadow play, and an eclectic soundscape use this American icon to explore the aesthetics of storytelling and ask questions about American identity.


    Dr. Amanda Kemp writes, directs and tours historical theatre productions that highlight U.S. slavery and the potential for healing the wounds of racism. Suitable for audiences of various ages, these shows are available for school and library programs. Currently touring is "Show me the Franklins: African Americans, Slavery & Benjamin Franklin." Through music, movement & sometimes humorous scenes, three actors and scholar Amanda Kemp dramatize how Franklin's slaveholding & abolitionism might have affected eighteenth century African-Americans.


    David Hildebrand, Ph.D., and Ginger Hildebrand, M.M., founders of the Colonial Music Institute, based in Maryland, offer music performances, lectures, and recordings of music from the colonial era. One of their CDs is titled "Music in the Life of Benjamin Franklin."


    An article from the
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the theory that Franklin wrote a string quartet, with information on Franklin's love of music.

Downloadable Franklin exhibit and brochure

Miscellaneous items

Many web sites contain items such as Benjamin Franklin t-shirts, patches, bobble-head dolls, etc. A few of them are: