Ben Franklin Autobiography Is Penn Reading Project as City Prepares for Yearlong 300th Birthday Celebration

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Media Contact:Julie McWilliams | juliemcw@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-898-1422August 3, 2005

PHILADELPHIA -- As America prepares to celebrate Ben Franklin's 300th birthday, freshmen at the Franklin-founded University of Pennsylvania will be reading his autobiography for the annual Penn Reading Project.

Each fall, as part of new student orientation at Penn, incoming students and volunteer faculty and senior administrators discuss a single book in a non-graded, non-credit experience known as the Penn Reading Project.

"The project's aim is to provide students a setting where they can discuss an intellectual idea or series of ideas in an experience that is not a class," said David Fox, director of new student orientation.

This year, in the first-ever customizing of the project text, students will focus on Penn founder Benjamin Franklin by reading a special edition of his "Autobiography" that includes a preface by Penn President Amy Gutmann.  

"While we've talked about reading the Franklin autobiography for years now," Fox said, "Peter Conn suggested that his 300th birthday would be an ideal time to do it."

Conn is an English professor who wrote the introduction and edited the special edition that also features essays by Richard R. Beeman, a historian of the American Revolution; Michael Zuckerman, a Franklin scholar; and Michael Weisberg and Paul D. Guyer, both professors of philosophy.

The reading project organizers have planned a preparatory session where these Franklin experts can meet with the 125 discussion leaders before they and the students attend a required lecture at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4, to be followed by small group discussions.

"It's up to the discussion leaders and the students to shape the way it goes," Fox said of these small group meetings.  "The discussion leaders aren't experts on Franklin, but they are interested in his ideas.

The Penn Reading Project is the first of scores of special events in Philadelphia that kick off this fall as part of a yearlong celebration of the life and accomplishments of Ben Franklin, who was born Jan. 17, 1706.  

Additional information on the reading project is available at www.upenn.edu/nso/prp/franklin/welcome.html.  

Information about the tercentenary is at www.benfranklin300.org.