There’s no better primary source for illuminating the intellectual, cultural, political, and economic life of Philadelphia in the mid-18th century than an issue – any issue — of Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. It doesn’t much matter which number you pick – there are more telling details about life in that prosperous, bustling, contentious, connected colonial world in one printing of that newspaper than it would be possible to explore, or even to “cover,” in a week’s worth of lectures or course discussions.
For class a couple of weeks ago, I picked a number at random from Franklin’s paper and used that to anchor a discussion that also served as an orientation to the primary source analysis paper my university students will be writing. I had already planned to include excerpts from the May 9, 1754 number (with the famous “Join or Die” cartoon) in my lecture slides for that night. But to introduce the idea of “close reading” a primary source, particularly a newspaper, I wanted to have students discuss a “non-momentous” number – just “a day in the life” of Ben Franklin’s town.