By Giuliana Trivella '14
Iona College established the first and only Institute for Thomas Paine Studies (ITPS) program at an academic institution this past July.
The announcement followed the recent approval by the New York State Supreme Court of a petition by the Thomas Paine National Historical Association to transfer permanent custodianship of its Thomas Paine Collection to Iona.
The collection consists of 300 varied items created from the late 18th to early 19th century. It was established to be the premier academic center for the preservation, study and dissemination of Thomas Paine’s through stewardship of related archival materials and development of educational programming, according to the press release from Iona College.
Senior Tony Pullano is one Iona student to feel privileged to have these artifacts available to him.
“Thomas Paine has contributed so much to the country we live
in today,” said Pullano. “This collection deserves special recognition and it is an inspiration to have a collection of his in our very own school.”
Faculty Director of the ITPS, Dr. Scott Cleary, feels there is something for everyone in the collection at the Ryan Library, but he does have a personal favorite.
“Personally, the most impressive item for me is a likely autograph manuscript copy of a poem written by Paine when he was in France during the French Revolution,” said Cleary.
“We don’t consider Paine a poet, and yet he was one of modest capacity, and that is what’s most impressive about the archive. Any and all of its items may give us additional insight into the man, the period, and the century,” he said.
Paine was an English-American political activist, theorist and author, most known for being a “Founding Father” of the United States.
The collection, and Thomas Paine himself, did not receive the recognition they deserve, according to the former provost, Dr. Brian Nickerson.
“The establishment of this Institute creates a first-of-its-kind academic affiliation for a long-neglected yet influential founding intellect of our country,” said Nickerson. “Paine’s writings have and continue to influence the political, social, and economic debates of our era. One cannot understand the fundamental principles of democracy or the American experience without understanding Paine.”
Cleary wanted the students of Iona to know about the new curriculum created in honor of the institute.
“We have already established an interdisciplinary minor in Thomas Paine Studies. I think that is what I want students to know most,” said Cleary. “The Institute is a resource for them, and this minor not only allows them an interdisciplinary study of a man and period that was foundational for global history, but there is a strong internship component to the minor as well. We have internships for credit in English, History, and Political Science, and opportunities for anybody interested in library science or museum studies.”
The program also brings a favorable boost to Iona’s reputation.
“The archive raises Iona to the level of institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania as the home of the papers and works of an American founding father,” said Cleary.
“The archive also strengthens our community ties to New Rochelle, since the archive is open to the public, and was created as joint venture between the TPNHA and the college. It makes Iona ground zero for interdisciplinary research, and it situates the college as a leader in shaping and shifting the legacy of a neglected founding father. That can’t be underestimated.”
Iona’s commitment to the holding of these resources will help maintain and educate the New Rochelle and Iona community on the legacy of Thomas Paine