Programming Ideas and Resources for the Exhibit

“Johns Adams Unbound” Online Site Support Notebook

Programming requirements: An opening reception for “John Adams Unbound” and two humanities-oriented public programs related to exhibition themes are the minimum requirement for host libraries. The reception and one humanities program may be combined. Humanities programs may include, but are not limited to lectures, discussions, debates, film series with discussion led by scholars, music and dance presentations with historical content, and seminars.

Please send an invitation for all exhibition opening events to:


National Endowment for the Humanities

1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20506

Ideas for Programs

  • Libraries hosting other exhibitions have done an exhibit “teaser” event one to two months before the exhibit arrives to generate interest—events included lectures, and readings from the speeches and writings of the subjects of the exhibit.

  • John Adams, Founding Father: Adams’s achievements as a statesman throughout the Revolutionary period.

  • Present a program on the Adams’s contributions to early American foreign relations. Both John and John Quincy served as diplomats before their terms as president.

  • John Adams was a dedicated farmer. Have a program on farming methods of the time contrasted with methods of today. Your county extension service would be a good source.

  • Offer a series of programs, each based on different volumes in the Adams book collection and their relationship to Adams’s ideas and actions.

  • John and Abigail Adams were early abolitionists. Have a program on slavery during the era of the American Revolution.

  • Sponsor a One Book, One Community program during the exhibit using a popular treatment of the John Adams story (one title for adults, one for young adults, one for children); or a reading and discussion series with two to three books about exhibit themes (see bibliographies in the yellow tab section of this notebook).

  • For a young adult or adult audience, sponsor a program in which the group decides which books they would include in their own personal, permanent library. Setting a limit on titles may be helpful—perhaps a total of 15. It would be interesting to see what books young adults would choose.

  • Present a series of feature films based in the times of John Adams and the American Revolution. Examples:
    The Patriot; 1776; Jefferson in Paris; Amistad (John Quincy Adams). [Remember that a feature film series requires public performance rights from the distributors of the films.]

  • Present a viewing and discussion series using the 7 episodes of the HBO series on John Adams with a local historian leading a discussion after each segment. [Public performance rights not needed.]

  • Find people in your community who have family stories, diaries, artifacts from the Revolutionary era. Create related exhibits or ask them to speak at a program. Tape their stories.

  • Develop programs on dances of the 18th century that John and Abigail Adams might have known in America, as well as in Europe.

  • Focus on John Adams’s foreign service to the U.S.

  • Abigail Adams was an equal partner and indispensable advisor to her husband. Present a program on First Ladies who were particularly influential; e.g., Dolley Madison, Grace Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton.

  • Though Thomas Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams was responsible for a first draft. Present a program on the Declaration of Independence and its development and history.

  • Have a program about the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy, Mass., operated by the National Park Service (
    external link
    ). Two main home sites are featured—the birthplaces of John and John Quincy Adams; and Peacefield, home to four generations of Adams’s.

  • The John Adams $1 coin was introduced in 2007. Invite a local numismatist to present a program on the presidential coin series and other presidential coins. Information on the coin at
    external link

  • Organize programs around the biographies and works of the men and women Adams knew and about their relationship with him. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are obvious examples.

  • Ask two local actors to read excerpts from the letters of John and Abigail Adams.

  • Have a program featuring music and dance of the Revolutionary era, with costumes and dance lessons.

  • The Adams family was one of the most accomplished and influential of its time. Have a program—or more than one—about the family, particularly Abigail, John Quincy and his son Charles Francis.

  • In a display area ask people to write the titles of one or two books they would want in their private collection. Compile the list and put it on the library’s web site.

  • Invite a local rare book dealer to present a program on book collecting. Exhibit books from the library’s rare book collection.

  • David Hildebrand, Ph.D., and Ginger Hildebrand, M.M., founders of the Colonial Music Institute, based in Maryland, offer music performances, lectures, and recordings of music from the colonial era.
    external link

  • The Jefferson Legacy Foundation, Ripton, VT, has developed a stage play about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams described as follows: “The United States is facing its most challenging tests at this time. We are asking ourselves what we stand for, where our national character is rooted, what we aspire to perpetuate and preserve.
    Jefferson & Adams, Howard Ginsberg's three-character stage play, provides two hours of thought-provoking and stimulating awareness of America as a nation and America as a people. For more information, see
    external link