A Modern Day Isaiah Thomas for the Classroom

Here at AAS we talk a lot about our prestigious founder, Isaiah Thomas. His first printing press, “Old No. 1,” stands proudly on the balcony of Antiquarian Hall. His portrait hangs in the foyer. And now, as part of our bicentennial we are touring a one-man play written by James David Moran, Director of Outreach, that brings Isaiah to life and uses his story to introduce students to the American Revolution, the power of literacy, and AAS itself.

Left: Present-day Isaiah Thomas interpreter at the real Isaiah Thomas's original printing press. Right: Ethan Allen Greenwood's 1818 portrait of Isaiah Thomas.

In Isaiah Thomas – Patriot Printer Neil Gustafson, a professional actor impersonating Thomas, goes into classrooms wearing period clothing. In an interactive presentation, Thomas tells his own life story and the history of our nation’s founding through selected documents that the real Thomas either created or collected. All of the documents he shares with the students are copies of documents from the AAS collections.

Along with the presentation, there is a curriculum guide developed by classroom teachers that includes background notes, lesson plans, and copies of documents to help prepare students for the show. This entire curriculum guide has now been put online on our website for teachers, www.TeachUSHistory.org.

This current tour, which is primarily bringing Thomas into every 5th grade classroom in the Worcester Public Schools, is made possible by a collaboration with CultureLEAP and funding from the Fuller Foundation, MassHumanities, and the Target Foundation. Teachers who have already hosted Thomas at their schools have been very positive:

Very entertaining! Greatly informative. Fun!

The students were mesmerized by the performance. Very authentic.

[This show] made what we had been studying really come ‘alive’ for the students.

It seems appropriate that on the 200th anniversary of the establishment of AAS we should be celebrating its founder, and this has been a wonderful way to do that. Check out our website to learn more about the Isaiah Thomas program.

Or check out last week’s Telegram & Gazette article that includes an interview of Isaiah Thomas (the interpreter, not the real one).

Editorial Note: This post is one of a series of posts on Isaiah Thomas. An earlier post described the founder of The Internet Archive as a modern-day Isaiah Thomas. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which Isaiah Thomas gets a Facebook page!

Published by

Kayla Haveles

Outreach Coordinator, American Antiquarian Society

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