Ken Burns’s two-part, four-hour documentary, “Benjamin Franklin,” premieres April 4-5 at 8 p.m. on WCNY-TV. It explores the revolutionary life of one of the 18th century’s most consequential and compelling personalities, whose work and words unlocked the mystery of electricity and helped create the United States. Franklin’s 84 years (1706-1790) spanned an epoch of momentous change in science, technology, literature, politics, and government—fields he himself advanced through a lifelong commitment to societal and self-improvement. Over the course of seven impossibly prolific decades, Franklin ascended professional and social ladders, rising from a printer’s apprentice in provincial Boston to the most popular man in Paris, France.
He wrote influential essays, coined words and phrases still used today, established enduring institutions in his adopted Philadelphia, introduced groundbreaking theories about the natural world, developed life-saving inventions, and contributed as much as anyone to the foundation of the American Republic. But Franklin’s life was full of contradictions, and his success came at a cost. Achievements as a writer, printer, scientist, and statesman brought him worldwide acclaim but divided him from his family. Though he would later speak out against slavery, he owned and enslaved people in his middle age. He denounced the white men who killed native people indiscriminately while also championing the expansion of white settlements onto indigenous lands. He did all he could to enhance the British Empire, then gave everything he had to win America’s independence.
Franklin’s influence was unmatched in his time, and his impact remains with us today. “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten,” he said in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” Benjamin Franklin did both.
WCNY in partnership with Upstate Oasis, presents the Ken Burns two-part documentary, “Benjamin Franklin,” live virtual screening and discussion event, Thursday, March 31 at 4 p.m. on Zoom.
Join us in exploring the life and work of one of the most consequential figures in American history, Benjamin Franklin. Watch clips from the new series, “Benjamin Franklin,” before it premieres, and enjoy a live Q&A panel discussion with film producer, David Schmidt, and local CNY historian, Tom Henry. Enjoy this great event all from the comfort of your home! The event is free, but registration is required.
• David Schmidt, Producer of “Benjamin Franklin”
• Tom Henry, Retired Social Studies Teacher and Historian
• Rubin Wright, WCNY Moderator