RIT Honors American Antiquarian Society with 2012 Isaiah Thomas Award

National research library founded by patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas




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Isaiah Thomas

Each year, Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Media Sciences honors a person or an organization with the Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the industry.

This year’s award honors the American Antiquarian Society, a national research library and learned society in Worcester, Mass.

Currently celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas himself, the American Antiquarian Society is dedicated to preserving the legacy and advancing the mission of its founder. Its vast and highly accessible collection of history, literature and cultural documents spans the life of America’s people from the colonial era through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Ellen Dunlap, president of the American Antiquarian Society, will accept the award during an event 10 a.m.–noon Sept. 20. The theme of the event is “Celebrating the Life of a Patriot Printer: A Tribute to Isaiah Thomas.” It is free and open to the public.

The morning’s events will include a panel discussion titled “Preserving the History of News in a Digital Age” that will be moderated by David Pankow, director of the RIT Press. Distinguished panelists will include Vincent Golden, curator of newspapers and periodicals at the American Antiquarian Society; Frank Romano, president of the Museum of Printing (North Andover, Mass.) and RIT professor emeritus; Tracey Leger-Hornby, dean of library services at the Gordon Library at Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Bruce Gaultney, publisher of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette; and Alex Rogala, editor of RIT’s Reporter student magazine.

Following the formal presentation, the American Antiquarian Society will host an open house at its facility at 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass. The society will showcase a special exhibition of its Isaiah Thomas materials, give tours and display a video presentation produced by RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection.

Twyla Cummings, associate dean of RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and the Paul and Louise Miller Distinguished Professor says: “We teach our students about the industry’s roots so they can fully understand its contemporary advancements. This is a very fitting time to honor the American Antiquarian Society for its mission in preserving the rich history of the newspaper publishing industry.”

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of RIT’s School of Media Sciences (formerly the School of Print Media), which established the Isaiah Thomas Award in 1979. The award is named in tribute to Thomas, an early leader of the American printing industry who in 1770 created The Massachusetts Spy at a Boston print shop known as the “sedition factory” by the British colonial government. In 1775 he escaped to Worcester and continued to publish using the wooden printing press he brought with him, which is now part of the American Antiquarian Society collection. The society donated an original copy of the Nov. 9, 1808, issue of The Massachusetts Spy to RIT in 1981.

Additionally, in 1810, Thomas wrote The History of Printing in America, which was regarded as the basic source of information on early American printing and publishing.

Past winners of the Isaiah Thomas Award include RIT’s seven Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni who’ve won a combined 11 Pulitzers in photography (Paul Benoit, Robert Bukaty, Ken Geiger, Stan Grossfeld, Dan Loh, William Snyder and Anthony Suau); Katharine Graham, president, Washington Post Co.; Thomas Curley, CEO and president of The Associated Press; and Arthur Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of The New York Times.

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Isaiah Thomas