Digital Ben Franklin

History of the Project

In 1988, The Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) initiated a collaboration with The Papers of Benjamin Franklin with the goal of creating a digital version of the Franklin papers. We thought that the ability to search the complete papers would be useful to the scholarly team editing the remaining volumes. Even more exciting was the opportunity to make Franklin's complete writings freely accessible to the public.

CD ROMs were the appropriate media for public distribution in 1988, and PHI was using them for projects involving Greek and Latin. We created a series of Franklin CD ROMs, but these were never widely distributed except to a few people who knew enough to ask for them. From time to time we dreamed of convincing a visionary computer maker to "pre-install" Benjamin Franklin on every PC out of the box.

It has been obvious for some time that a Franklin website is a more practical solution. Not long ago, we set ourselves the goal of creating a website to celebrate Franklin's 300th birthday on January 17, 2006. The information contained in the website is based on many years of work, but its presentation in "web format" is a very recent effort. You should consider the website itself as only a first draft. In particular, some of the tables may not display properly yet. (We worked hard to format these correctly for our CD ROM versions.)

Recently the wholesale digitizing of millions of library books has been in the news. Technology can make some tasks incredibly efficient, but some worthwhile projects still take a long, long time. The editorial team at Yale has been working faithfully for 50 years on The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. PHI has been involved (on a much smaller scale) for 15 years.

The people at PHI who have worked on the Digital Ben Franklin project are: Stephen V.F. Waite, Wilkins Poe, Patricia Doherty, and David W. Packard.