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The Fourth Estate and Democracy

Englisah 205 5A


Intro:  398-402 (at attachment)

The Autobiography:  Part One and Two at


The Fourth Estate and Democracy

READ:  “Print Culture and the Road to Revolution”  p. 370 – 75 (at attachment)

While it would be an understatment to point out that Benjamin Franklin is well-known (especially here in Philadelphia, where you are hard-pressed to escape his likeness), most people think of him in popular vignettes: his arrival in Philadelphia, 2 rolls of bread under his arms (p. 418) , the kite experiment, perhaps some of his inventions (the Franklin stove, the lending library, etc.).  Less frequently, people remember that he had a printing shop, the profession that was to earn him his living and later his fortune.                     

However, the existence of a free press (enabled by printers like Franklin) was vital to the communication of revolutionary ideas and the ultimate success of the rejection of British rule.

Freely available media (newspapers, TV, etc.) is often referred to as THE FOURTH ESTATE.

The “fourth estate” is a term that positions the press as a fourth branch of government and one that is important to a functioning democracy. Statue of Franklin as printer, corner of Broad St. & JFK Blvd.

“Access to information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.”



Discussion Board Post

Your reading in Franklin’s Autobiography covers much of his introduction to, and involvement with, the world of printing in the Colonies.

He even (half-jokingly) suggested the following serve as his epitaph:


B. Franklin, Printer

(Like the Cover of an Old Book

Its Contents torn Out

And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)

Lies Here, Food for Worms.

But the Work shall not be Lost;

For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More

In a New and More Elegant Edition

Revised and Corrected

By the Author.


How does Franklin’s insistence of his identity as primarily “a printer” embody Enlightenment ideas?


250 words. No work cited




English 205 5B

· Gustavas Vasso, or Olaudah Equiano


Introduction: pp. 512-14

Equiano, from The Interesting Narrative of the Life: Chapters 1-7 (pp. 514-36) Visit  & spend some time looking at The Equiano Project.

Musical Homage

“Olaudah Equiano” wtitten in 2006

Scholarly Debate: Equiano’s Origins

Vincent Carretta, a well-respected biographer of Equiano, came across several documents that call into question the first 30 pages (or so) of the Narrative (the part dealing with his childhood in Nigeria, abduction, and crossing in a slave ship).

“However, over and above any other evidence, two documents that Carretta cites have turned Equiano studies upside down. These are a 1759 parish baptismal record and a 1773 ship muster.7 Both refer to Equiano as “Gustavus Vassa,” the third of three slave names bestowed upon the young boy and the one he retained throughout his life in correspondence and on legal documents. The 1759 baptismal record lists Gustavus Vassa as a “Black born in Carolina 12 years old” and then there’s the 1773 ship muster for the Race Horse that lists among the rollcall of the crew a “Gust. Weston” and a “Gust. Feston” of “S. Carolina.””

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

“Was Equiano/Vassa the son of an African “chief” before he was abducted and forced into slavery, thus making him one of the only victims of the heinous Middle Passage to write about it?  Or was Equiano/Vassa actually an ex-slave from South Carolina who invented the Middle Passage sequence in The Interesting Narrative from other sources and from his own imagination, thus making him the author of a compelling and genre-defining slave narrative that was, at its foundation, fictional? If it turns out that Equiano/Vassa was born in South Carolina, does that change the significance of The Interesting Narrative as a literary text and a historical document? How and to what extent? If Equiano/Vassa is a liar, should we still be teaching him, or is The Interesting Narrative simply a hoax that deserves to be disregarded? Should we, as one scholar has insisted, be saying “Goodbye, Equiano, the African”?



Discussion Board Post:

How does Equiano’s narrative compare with others we’ve read in the class, such as Bradford’s, Rowlandson’s, or Franklin’s? What values and/or experiences do they seem to share?

Why is Olaudah Equiano’s narrative appropriate reading for an American literature course? He was born in Nigeria, and except for ten years as a slave in the Americas, he lived most of his life in England. What specifically “American” experiences or values does he seem to typify or embrace?

250 words. No work cited




English 205 week5 comment

(make sure write where is this quote from into beginning of explanation) (you can find a quote from reading in first assignment).


Students will choose a short excerpt / quote from one of the readings of that week, type it in, then add a short (150 words or so) explanation for your choice. Was your selection important because it:

· is an example of beautiful or striking language?

· exemplifies a particular theme or character?

· makes the reader think about something in a new way?

· reflects a particular aspect of French culture?

· was just something that you liked?


For example:

“Whoever gets knowledge from God, science,


and a talent for speech, eloquence,


Shouldn’t shut up or hide away;


No, that person should gladly display.”  Marie de France


In the opening lines to the Prologue to the Lays, Marie de France is providing her readers with an explanation for writing these stories down.  This is a very common and traditional rhetorical move informing readers about the ethos or qualifications of the speaker.  In this case, Marie is claiming that she is knowledgeable and eloquent and that these gifts come from God and therefore should be used.  I think it goes further than that; Marie, like most women of her day,* would have been expected to “shut up” and “hide away” as a matter of course, since women’s voices were not welcomed in the public sphere.  By opening her work in this way, she preempts criticism about the appropriateness of her authorship.

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