Hamilton: An American Musical in teaching and public outreach

Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter. . . Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792

Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter. . . Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792

Please forgive the relative silence on this blog lately, friends.  I’ve been busier–in the words of my late, profane grandmother–“than a cat covered in $hit!”  Much to my surprise, I’ve found it psychologically more comfortable these days to immerse myself in the eighteenth century rather than so-called “reality” these days.  Not that the eighteenth century was a time when things were “great”–far from it!  But, the eighteenth century has the virtue of being over and done with for more than two centuries, so I don’t have any responsibility for making it better.  That’s its primary virtue for me now.

But look what happens when you listen to the Hamilton:  An American Musical soundtrack on your drive and walk to work every day:  you (I) wake up with #Hamiltunes on your mind, and you (I) walk around humming “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home. . . “ or “The Room Where It Happens,” and saying out loud to colleagues “sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder.”  (Oops!)  You (I) make irritating allusions to Hamilton, like adding “Sir,” to the ends of sentences, and sign your emails “I have the honor to be your obedient servant, H.Ann.”

hamiltonmusicalOther historians are doing much better than I am in the creative and fun ways they’re using the Hamilton pop culture phenomenon in their classrooms and in public outreach.  Here are some recent examples–and since I plan to play at least one song a day next semester in HIST 341:  Eighteenth-century America, the course in which I teach the American Revolution, I am eager to learn of other examples like these, so please add your links and ideas in the comments below:

Other links to the #HamilCraze that seems to have overtaken some of us lately?  (Or, to quote Daveed Diggs’s Thomas Jefferson, “Whatd’I miss?”  Let me know what you think!

16 thoughts on “Hamilton: An American Musical in teaching and public outreach

  1. I haven’t even listened to it yet, but I put it on the syllabus for my general humanities course next semester. I bought the LP box set at Thanksgiving – ridiculously expensive, but I wanted it on vinyl – and some evening soon I am going to settle in and listen to it. Or maybe after finals. Glad to see so many good ideas about how to use it.

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    • I wrote about my introduction to Hamilton back in October. here

      After a successful short lecture on Hamilton in my Humanities class, I decided to teach it in my modern drama survey next semester. When I announced that in my Humanities class, nine non-English majors signed up. Nice, eh? I’m going to talk about how Hamilton fits into or reacts to the American dramatic tradition. I have some ideas about that, and I’d like to write about it if I can find time.

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  2. I used Hamilton when I began my seminar on Early Medieval histories. I sympathized with the students feeling a bit remote from people who were writing 1400 or so years ago. How distant it seems, and even more so when they’re often writing about people who lived some generations earlier. How random, it sometimes seemed, whose stories survived and whose didn’t? Why, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” I asked.

    They mostly didn’t get that, not being trufans, but I turned to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s poetry rap to see if that would help them. We watched that. His passionate evocation of Hamilton’s origins, his performance of Burr’s piece really hit home. I told them that this was an excellent example of the power of history to remake the past while it evoked the same. These medieval people in their histories stand at a far remove to us, but remember: they’re all people, they all have stories and we’re lucky enough to have the chance to try to rediscover and remake them. And maybe, if you want to, even set that interpretation to music! (So far, no takers, though I have a group that’s pitching a TV event based on Charlemagne!)

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  3. I just downloaded the album, so that I can listen to it. . . not sure when, because everyone makes it seem as if I have to pay attention. But I might start playing songs in the car instead of listening to the radio…

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  4. I was even able to work Hamilton into a Soviet history class last spring, describing Stalin in the early 1920s as “the guy who’s gonna wait for it” (in the jockeying for supremacy after Lenin’s death). This was just an ad-libbed aside in a lecture, but it got my musical geek students smiling. Definitely great music to cook to!

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  5. These are great ideas & links, H.Ann! Since I’m not an early Americanist, I have to work out my Hamilton obsession through other means, mostly through blog posts that talk about how later 19th- and 20th-century readers saw A.Ham and A. Burr.

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  6. Great points, Historiann. I’m “all about the women,” too. Two ideas for a U.S. History survey course, with “Hamilton” tie-ins: 1) AH’s “Report on Manufactures” with its casual suggestion that manufacturing could be carried on by “persons who would otherwise be idle,” i.e., farmers’ daughters and wives. More interesting implications to explore, perhaps, than those surrounding “assumption of state debts.” 2) Eliza Schuyler Hamilton lived until around 1850 and she didn’t spend all her time burnishing his reputation or applying for her pension from Congress. She was heavily involved in running a post-Revolutionary women’s organization, an orphanage founded in NYC in 1806.

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