Earlier this week, I found myself sitting at my desk at the Franklin Papers faced with photostat copies of an “Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners” and a huge pile of promissory notes printed in triplicate by Franklin himself on the press he kept at his home in Passy, a suburb outside Paris. While I was going through them, I could not help but think back to the recent events surrounding the return of U.S. Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining prisoner of the nation’s longest continuous period of war since the American Revolution. Politics aside, the Bergdahl affair speaks to the importance placed on coming to the aid of Americans detained in wartime. And what I had before me at my desk spoke to the same during the War for Independence. These men—largely privateersmen who had been captured on the high seas by the British and transported to English prisons—were among the very first Americans imprisoned on foreign soil during wartime and these documents reveal an often untold story about how the United States government and Benjamin Franklin dealt with this new problem.
On this—the 223rd anniversary of the death of Benjamin Franklin—I thought I would use this space to say a few words about my experience over the last year working at the Papers of Benjamin Franklin here at Yale University from the perspective of a graduate student. Last June, I was fortunate enough to be given a regular (part-time) position at the Franklin Papers. Officially, I am a Research Assistant and have done a number of small research projects designed to provide the editors with reference materials on Pennsylvania in the 1780s as they finish up the volumes covering Franklin’s stay in Paris. I have also been given the opportunity to tackle more editorial-type duties including fact-checking, drafting annotations, and proofreading transcriptions. Through these experiences and my innumerable conversations with the chief Editor, Ellen Cohn, I have gotten an inside look at scholarly editing, which often goes either unnoticed or under-appreciated by academic historians. Continue reading