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The Age of Benjamin Franklin

From the Revolutionary fervor to the taming of electricity, get to know the quintessential American.
The Age of Benjamin Franklin is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 71.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Genius for All Ages One may be surprised to learn that he is a member of the Chess Hall of Fame as well as the International Swimming Hall of Fame! I cannot recommend this presentation more - it is wonderful.
Date published: 2024-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT, very informative, highly recommend This lecture was excellent. I learned things that are not necessarily taught in history classes about one of America's most famous and influential people. I highly recommend this course if 18 century history is your thing.
Date published: 2024-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile introduction to a many-faceted man Dr. Allsion's introduction to Franklin and his times provides enough depth to make the viewer want to learn more, and his excellent annotated bibliography in the course guidebook provides carefully considered recommendations for further study. His delivery relies on intonation to make his style seem conversational. He also uses hand gestures, rather than facial expression, to underscore his points. I liked his emphasis on Franklin's stature as a scientist and his associations with European intellectuals, such as David Hume and Joseph Priestley. Allison skips lightly over Franklin's possible dalliances in France and does not go into detail about his diplomatic strategy for finally securing French financial support for the revolution in America. His comments on Franklin's avoidance of public speaking during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 are revealing. Here was a man who preferred to work quietly behind the scenes. However, according to Allison, we owe to Franklin the fact that ALL the participants in the Convention signed the final document. When he spoke, everybody listened.
Date published: 2023-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Character I found this course to have a balanced approach to Franklin - looking at the various ways he impacted life in the 18th century and beyond. Franklin, like every fallible human being, had admirable and contemptible traits which, in combination, made him admired and hated in both his lifetime and since. His accomplishments in science, politics, commerce, etc. elevated him to a position in which he could use his talents to help establish the United States as an independent and unique republic in a world ruled by monarchies. Even though he fell short in attaining many of the virtues he ascribed to, he showed that the pursuit of those is the actual goal. He was also honest enough to be open to other viewpoints and change his mind when presented with, or reasoned through, new information. This course kept me engaged and the material was well presented by a knowledgeable subject matter expert.
Date published: 2023-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spe3nd many mornings learning about history. I very much enjoy learning about our world, England has a lot of publicity and benificent press but Victorian England was horrible living conditions. But they came up with and developed the Industrial Revolution. Go figure. The Black Death has captivated me also and the rewriting of the history as evidenced in your courses. Our recent pandemic was child's
Date published: 2022-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating insights! I loved this course which delved into all aspects of the long life of Benjamin Franklin from his relationships with various women, his inventions, his trail blazing work on electricity & his careers as a writer, printer, inventor, diplomat and founding father of the U.S. I had already read a biography of Franklin, but this course included a lot of interesting details that I didn't know before.
Date published: 2022-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ben Franklin Brought To Life Having grown up in the Philadelphia metro area almost seven decades ago, I was of a period when it was still (almost) a "requirement" to learn the life story and appreciate the accomplishments & contributions of Benjamin Franklin. Needless to say, the "learning" was not always as nuanced and/or critical as it would be today. Over my adult years, I have on occasion sought to significantly enhance my knowledge and understanding of both the man and also of the world in which he lived. This course of study is an excellent addition to my learning effort. Contrary to some reviewers, I found the presenter's style and cadence both calm and steady. Yes, the hand motions are a constant, but I had no problem getting past them by just focusing on the fact-based, nuanced story that was being delivered. Occasionally the information flow seemed a bit rushed but, as I have commented in other reviews, I attribute that to the relative brevity of the program (i.e. 24 lectures averaging 30 minutes). I even found the studio setting supportive of the subject matter. In short, this course of study is well worth the time and investment.
Date published: 2021-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Title is accurate and appropriate An interesting biography. Dr Allison presents less well known quirks of Franklin (relations with women. Delegating of dangerous aspects to helpers, aids, and relatives. I found the scope of the Franklin family to be confusing--better graphics of the genealogy and fates (of the 13 children would help. The lector's manner is at times a bit distracting. There is too much of "a dance" from spot to spot--twisting and turning in stereotyped way. Dr. Allison is not a snappy dresser, and his baggy, too long trousers look kind of foolish at times. But he comes across a a nice man.
Date published: 2021-11-12
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The Age of Benjamin Franklin is a thorough-and sometimes surprising-course that presents a full portrait of a man defying easy definition. Over 24 insightful lectures, Professor Robert J. Allison of Suffolk University explores the many facets of Ben Franklin's life and times. A pioneer in science, politics, diplomacy, and more, Franklin was truly one of the most extraordinary Americans ever to have lived.


Robert J. Allison

The best thing [about writing this class] has been hearing from so many students who have watched or listened, as they've asked new questions and raised new ideas about this exciting history.


Suffolk University

Dr. Robert J. Allison is Professor of History at Suffolk University in Boston and also teaches history at the Harvard Extension School. He graduated from the Harvard Extension School with an A.L.B. before earning a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization at Harvard in 1992. Professor Allison received the Harvard Extension School's Petra Shattuck Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997, the Suffolk University Student Government Association's Distinguished Faculty Award in 2006, and the Suffolk University Outstanding Faculty Award in 2007. His books include The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815 (2000); A Short History of Boston (2004); Stephen Decatur, American Naval Hero (2005); The Boston Massacre (2006); The Boston Tea Party (2007); and the upcoming A Short History of Cape Cod. He has edited books on American history spanning from the colonial period to the 20th century. Professor Allison was a consultant to the Commonwealth Museum at the State Archives in Boston, and he is on the board of overseers of the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He is vice president of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, an elected fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and president of the South Boston Historical Society.

By This Professor

The Age of Benjamin Franklin
The Age of Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin and the American Dream

01: Benjamin Franklin and the American Dream

Begin your course with a look at Franklin’s unfinished autobiography, a book in which he consciously created a persona for himself as a role model others may follow. Although there is more to Franklin than he showed on the page, surveying the Autobiography offers some foundational insights into his life, his worldview, and the times in which he lived.

31 min
Meet the Franklins

02: Meet the Franklins

In many ways, the Franklins were a typical 18th century family—extended across space (New England, the West Indies, and Europe), and filled with comedy and tragedy, wealth and poverty. Here, you will meet his parents and siblings, learn the story of his wife and first-born son, and accompany Franklin on his travels as his family grew.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin's Boston Beginnings

03: Benjamin Franklin's Boston Beginnings

We may associate Franklin with Philadelphia, but his roots lie in Boston. As you will find out in this lecture, many of the virtues Franklin would cultivate throughout his life grew from the values of the Boston Puritans. Delve into the Boston of the time to meet some of the people and witness the events that Franklin experienced in his youth.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin and Philadelphia

04: Benjamin Franklin and Philadelphia

Shift your attention to the next stop on Franklin’s life voyage, the City of Brotherly Love. Not only was 18th century Philadelphia one of the leading cities in British America, it was one of the leading cities in the British Empire. Find out what made this city so important, and discover how the city shaped Franklin—and how Franklin shaped the city.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin in London

05: Benjamin Franklin in London

If Philadelphia was one of the British Empire’s leading cities, London itself was becoming the metropolis of the Western world: the largest city in Europe, the financial center of the British Empire, and the nexus of global trade. From the royal exchange to the gambling dens, get to know this great city, and examine some of Franklin’s pastimes.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin: Printer and Postmaster

06: Benjamin Franklin: Printer and Postmaster

The world was experiencing a major revolution in the 18th century thanks to the printing press. The rise in literacy, the spread of ideas, and the creation of communities across oceans and colonial boundaries re-shaped the world’s intellectual landscape. Delve into Franklin’s career as a printer, where he was at the center of this revolution.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin: Scientist

07: Benjamin Franklin: Scientist

In addition to the print revolution, the 18th century saw scientific paradigms shift with the triumph of empirical knowledge. Franklin was a scientist—or, as he would have termed it, a “natural philosopher”—and his scientific contributions alone would have earned him a place in the history books. Examine some of his major inventions and ideas.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin and Electricity

08: Benjamin Franklin and Electricity

Unpack Franklin’s greatest scientific contributions, which were in the field of electricity. As one of his biographers put it, Franklin found electricity as merely a curiosity but he left it a science. Review his most important discoveries, experiments, and contributions, and reflect on the lasting legacy of Franklin as a scientist.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin's Religious Beliefs

09: Benjamin Franklin's Religious Beliefs

Franklin lived during a great age of rationality and questioning, but also through one of the greatest religious revivals in world history. Franklin himself was a close friend of both George Whitefield, a famous evangelist, and David Hume, a powerful skeptic. Find out what Franklin made of these divergent intellectual movements.

29 min
Benjamin Franklin: American Satirist

10: Benjamin Franklin: American Satirist

The 18th century was also the golden age of satire, which provided an excellent way to question authority and challenge received wisdom. As you will learn in this lecture, Franklin was among peers with Swift, Defoe, and Voltaire, and he used personas like Silence Dogood to offer blistering critiques of society.

31 min
The Musical Benjamin Franklin

11: The Musical Benjamin Franklin

Among Franklin’s lesser known abilities are his musical talents, which made effective use of his rational mind and his quest for understanding the world. After surveying the world of 18th century music, Professor Allison reveals Franklin’s musical prowess, including the invention of a new musical instrument.

26 min
Benjamin Franklin: Ladies Man

12: Benjamin Franklin: Ladies Man

Franklin has been called everything from a “babe magnet” to a “high-flying ladies’ man” to “the founding flirt.” Although he was conventionally married and had a family, he also had a number of unconventional liaisons around the world. Here, you will consider the many women in Franklin’s life, and his relationships with them.

34 min
Benjamin Franklin: A Reluctant Politician

13: Benjamin Franklin: A Reluctant Politician

Franklin loved science and ideas, but disliked controversy, a disposition that made him reluctant to enter politics. It is one of history’s greatest ironies that this hesitant politician would become one of the most important political figures in the English-speaking world. Survey Franklin’s entry into politics and consider his style as a politician.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin and the American Indians

14: Benjamin Franklin and the American Indians

It might be strange to consider, but Franklin knew more about Native Americans than modern historians do. The Iroquois, Delaware, and other natives loomed large in his world and held the balance of power in North America. Witness his negotiations with these groups and reflect on his views toward American Indians.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin and Slavery in America

15: Benjamin Franklin and Slavery in America

Franklin’s attitudes toward race and slavery changed over the course of his long life. During his life he owned four slaves, yet he came to despise the institution for the way it contradicted Enlightenment values. After surveying the institution of American slavery, Professor Allison walks you through Franklin’s life as he wrestled with slavery.

33 min
Benjamin Franklin and Colonies vs. Empire

16: Benjamin Franklin and Colonies vs. Empire

As with slavery, Franklin’s attitudes toward the British Empire also shifted as Parliament struggled to govern far-flung colonies. Here, you will review Franklin’s role as an American agent to London while tensions rose between Britain and the colonies. A steady drumbeat of war began to be heard.

30 min
Benjamin Franklin and the Crisis of 1773

17: Benjamin Franklin and the Crisis of 1773

Continue your study of the tensions between Americans and the British. In the wake of the Tea Act and Boston Tea Party, Franklin in London as an agent for the American colonies struggled to patch the relationship and salvage the empire, but by 1775, a break is imminent.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin and Colonial Independence

18: Benjamin Franklin and Colonial Independence

At 70 years old, Franklin played a central role in America’s declaration of independence, the formation of a new government in Pennsylvania, and in diplomatic forays to Canada and France. Find out what lessons the reluctant politician had learned that would help him navigate the entirely new world being created around him.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin and the Age of Revolution

19: Benjamin Franklin and the Age of Revolution

The late 18th century was an age of political revolution, and an era of philosophical revolution, as Enlightenment values spread across Europe and the Americas. As you’ll learn in this lecture, Franklin was the American counterpart of his friends David Hume and Voltaire, all viewing the world with reason and skepticism.

34 min
Benjamin Franklin: Acclaimed in France

20: Benjamin Franklin: Acclaimed in France

In December 1776, with independence declared and the American Revolution underway, Franklin traveled to Paris as an ambassador and was met with great acclaim. Journey with him through France over the next nine years, and learn how he adapted to French politics and culture, and cultivated an image of himself as a representative of the New World.

34 min
Benjamin Franklin: Making Peace

21: Benjamin Franklin: Making Peace

Although Franklin enjoyed himself in France, his primary mission was one of complicated diplomacy—first, to bring France into a military alliance with the United States; second, to negotiate with other European powers to support the American cause; and finally, to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. Witness his strategy for achieving these ends.

33 min
Benjamin Franklin: Framing the Constitution

22: Benjamin Franklin: Framing the Constitution

When he returned to America, he hoped to spend his remaining years enjoying life as a private citizen, but public duty called once again. Although America had won its independence, many challenges—from paying debts to establishing a government—remained. Delve into the debates and trials of a new nation.

32 min
Benjamin Franklin's Critics and Enemies

23: Benjamin Franklin's Critics and Enemies

In his Autobiography, Franklin wrote a blueprint for how to win friends, but as you have discovered, he was much more complicated than the persona he created. From his beginnings as a ruthless businessman to his half-century as a political player, he developed numerous critics and even enemies.

33 min
Benjamin Franklin's Remarkable Legacy

24: Benjamin Franklin's Remarkable Legacy

Franklin lived an extraordinary life, but what’s just as extraordinary is his legacy. Why has he been remembered so fondly when so many of his contemporaries have been forgotten? In this final lecture, consider why Franklin’s legacy has endured, and examine the many ways he has been remembered by posterity.

33 min