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UNIT 17: Ideas Shape the World

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Ben Franklin and Transatlantic Revolutions

In eighteenth-century Europe, thinkers influenced by recent developments in scientific theory sought to subject all social and cultural institutions to reasonable, scientific scrutiny. Most of these thinkers concluded that all societies could improve if they were based on the principles of freedom, equality, and happiness. These ideas were central to what became known as the Enlightenment.

Although Enlightenment ideas originated in Europe, they were quickly transmitted to the Americas through the social, political, and economic networks of Europe's colonial empires. This segment looks at the effects of the transatlantic transmission of Enlightenment ideas through the example of Benjamin Franklin, a North American colonist.

Franklin absorbed Enlightenment ideas, and he sought to conduct his life according to the principles of rational scientific inquiry, individual improvement, and civic duty. Franklin's scientific discoveries and his cosmopolitan understanding of Enlightenment ideas eventually made him famous on both sides of the Atlantic. He traveled widely in Europe, where fellow Enlightenment thinkers enthusiastically received him.

When the North American colonies grew discontented with Britain, Franklin initially believed that Britain would remedy the situation by responding to rationality and reason. When this turned out to be a false assumption, Franklin became a critical player in the struggle for North American independence-a struggle that successfully used ideas that originated in Europe to break away from Europe.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, PORTRAIT OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1783). Image donated by Corbis - Bettmann.

Cen Boulet, L'INTéRIEUR DU COMITé RéVOLUTIONNAIRE (1784). Courtesy of The Library of Congress.


Anonymous, THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: BURNING THE ROYAL CARRIAGES AT THE CHATEAU D'EU (1848). Courtesy of The Library of Congress.

John Trumbull, DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1776). Image donated by Corbis - Bettmann.



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