The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

John Adams and the Power of the Letter

Most people with access to HBO, and many others as well, could not but have noticed the media blitz accompanying tonight’s debut of the mini-series “John Adams.” With big names involved (Paul Giamatti as John Adams, Laura Linney as Abigail, Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin, Tom Hanks as a co-producer) and the amazing historian, David McCullough “over the moon” as the author of the biography on which it is based, this mini-series can hardly fail to inspire.

John Adams
From the Library of Congress Collection:
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present.

In case you have not yet looked at the HBO Web site, you will be pleased to see a link to Teaching John Adams. A free education kit has been sent to 10,000 high schools, but if you missed it, you can download the complete teacher guide and student guide from the HBO Web site. If you subscribe to the inTIME Student Magazine, you will also find the entire student guide in the John Adams edition.

There’s more. In cooperation with the United States Postal Service, HBO has developed a special “Power of the Letter” section for its Web site based on the letters of John Adams:

In his prolific correspondence, John Adams left us a remarkable first-person account of the birth of our nation, as well as a candid portrait of his life and personal relationships. John and his wife Abigail’s letters offer a window to our past; we can be inspired to revive this tradition, to return to the enduring power of the written word, and leave a legacy for future generations.

The featured letters, which you can read either in transcribed form or enlarge to view original details, are provided by the Massachusetts Historical Society. (If you’re lucky enough to live near Boston, you can see the originals at the Society’s headquarters. There’s also an exhibition at Vassar.)

Students might enjoy customizing and sending a free John Adams greeting card. The US Postal Service is also helping to celebrate letter writing by postmarking First-Class Mail® letters with a special Power of the Letter cancellation in February and March.

In support of the mini-series, Colonial Williamsburg is sponsoring a Sweepstakes to win a family trip to the historic site.

And finally, on a personal note, the screenwriter and co-executive producer–Kirk Ellis–graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School in my own city of Colorado Springs! When I “googled” him, I discovered an excellent interview about his work on the mini-series in an “interactive history magazine where YOU decide the course of action.” Not being a history teacher myself, I had never heard of Armchair General, but I was impressed with the goals of the publisher, whose name is Eric Weider:

Eric Weider is an experienced magazine publisher whose passion is bringing history to life through both print and Web media that engage the reader and provide interactive, decision-making opportunities. Eric’s goal is to make history meaningful to a broad audience, especially to America’s youth.

I hope you enjoy reading the Armchair General interview with Kirk Ellis. And I hope you will watch, record, or purchase the mini-series for your classroom or school.


One Response to “John Adams and the Power of the Letter”

  1. Gerald D. Swick says:

    Thank you for your kind words about the Kirk Ellis interview that I wrote for I just wanted to let you know I found Mr. Ellis to be a very pleasant man and very easy to interview. He was also gracious enough to give me much more time than had originally been allotted for the interview.

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