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Grant number: FT-254470-17

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Edward Cahill
Fordham University (Bronx, NY 10458-9993)

Benjamin Franklin and Upward Mobility in British America

Research and writing of a study of class mobility in colonial America and other British colonies, with the life of Benjamin Franklin as a case study.

This project explores the cultural history of upward mobility in colonial British America by examining the ideas of striving and rising that Benjamin Franklin inherited and the ways in which he and others adapted and revised them. Long considered an avatar of the ‘American Dream,’ Franklin was in fact indebted to a 17th-century English tradition that understood mobility as appealing but dangerous, as well as a colonial one that often satirized radical mobility while limiting prosperity to elites. Such tensions persisted throughout the 18th century, even as American opportunity widened and moral scruples about ambition grew more flexible. After achieving wealth and status himself, Franklin demanded the virtuous moderation of his ambitious contemporaries and ridiculed hasty striving. But he also affirmed the legitimacy of mobility, extended its intellectual and social means to a broader audience, and revolutionized the formal literary means by which its stories could be told.

Project fields:
American Literature; American Studies; Cultural History

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

Total amounts:
$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2017 – 7/31/2017