Ben James 101

ben james

To commemorate Ben James' '34's 101st birthday, we imagine a introductory class about the life and times of "Mr. Dickinson." 

Course Syllabus


Ben James 101: An Introduction (August 2013)

Overview: Ben James ’34 is turning 101 on Aug. 10. Given his lifelong dedication to education and Dickinson, it’s hard to see his name next to 101 without reading it as some sort of course. So we thought it would be fun to celebrate James’s birthday by imagining Ben James 101, a class highlighting in broad strokes and fine detail his life and times, complete with everything from a required reading list to a quiz on some of the events of his life.


Course credits/requirements fulfilled: Enhanced status as a Noble Dickinsonian

Prerequisite: An abiding interest in all things Dickinson

Summary and Objectives


1912 was a hot one: Fenway Park opened in Boston, the Titanic sank into the Atlantic on its way to New York City and Alaska became an American territory. The cast of characters taking their first breath that year is equally striking. To name just a few: Jackson Pollack, Gene Kelly, Clara Barton, Studs Terkel and, of course, Ben James ’34.


In Ben James 101, students of all ages will engage in lively discussions surrounding this Dickinson icon and his 101 years; explore James’ rich life; and take a virtual field trip through the events that shaped his life and the American century, while documenting their learning through blogging and mapping the locations of primary life events discovered along the way.


At the end of the course, students will be able to answer the following questions, with confidence:


1. James coached Red Devils football for one season, in 1942. What was the team’s chief historical distinction? (It was the only football team to form during World War II.)

2. In what year was Dickinson’s Benjamin D. James Center dedicated? (1987)

3. James was a force in integrating what local organizations? (Carlisle area schools, YMCA and the Carlisle Teener baseball league)

4. James played what defensive position as part of Dickinson’s stunning 1931 victory over Penn State football? (nose tackle)

5. What nickname has James earned for his years of service to the college? (Mr. Dickinson)


Students will be able to: 1) place James in historical perspectives (a la Forrest Gump), 2) identify key Pennsylvania historical issues of which James was a part and 3) support plausible historical arguments for James’ influence on both Central Pennsylvania generally and Dickinson specifically via his involvement in education, business, government, community and athletics and his 31 years with Dickinson in several professional capacities.

A Brief Overview of an Accomplished Life

Ben James was born in 1912 in Plymouth, Pa., and graduated from Plymouth High School in 1930. He graduated from Dickinson College in 1934 and returned to Plymouth to teach and coach until 1941, when he then returned to Dickinson College to teach psychology and coach football, basketball and track. He joined the Navy in 1943 and served for three years, after which he taught and held many positions at Dickinson—chair of the psychology department (1955-1960), dean of admissions (1946-1961) and dean of the college (1960-1969)—until he retired in 1977. When all is said and done, James taught, mentored and influenced hundreds of students from the Central Pennsylvania area.


Required Texts (Available at the Whistlestop or on Library Reserve)

Ben James and John “Milt” Davidson ’33, “Remembering the Big Game” [audio]. Dickinson College, October 2009.

Carter Vaughn Findley and John Alexander Rothney, Twentieth-Century World. Cengage Learning, January 2011.

Randall M. Miller (author, ed.) and William A. Pencak (ed.), Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania State University Press, October 2002.

Charles Coleman Sellers, Dickinson College: A History. Wesleyan/Dickinson College, February 1973.

Linda A. Reis, Harrisburg (PA) (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing, October 2000.


Additional reading:

Published July 10, 2013