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.”
Other 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:
- Michelle Orihel of Southern Utah University (and a fellow FREAC) contributed a guest post to The Junto, explaining how she is using Hamilton: An American Musical to get her students to engage with eighteenth-century print culture, especially the Reynolds Pamphlet. She writes, “the song effectively captured my students’ attention and complemented the pamphlet nicely, extending my students’ analysis of that work.” (Check out her previous post at The Junto about using of the Hamilton song “Farmer Refuted”–it’s mentioned in this blog post but they don’t include a link!)
- Karin Wulf quotes Hamilton: An American Musical right in the title of “‘Awesome, Wow’: King George III in the American Popular Imagination,” discussing along the way not just King George in the musical but also in children’s books and in the 1994 film version of Alan Bennett’s outstanding The Madness of King George. She also comments on a #Ham4Ham performance of “The Schyler Georges,” featuring three of the actors who played George III in the off-Broadway and on-Broadway version of the show lip-synching “The Schuyler Sisters.” Wulf writes, “Having Groff appear as the senior sister, the brainy Angelica Schuyler, makes an even more compelling counterpoint for George III than Hamilton himself. Schuyler’s lines invoke revolution beyond the aims of the revolutionaries: “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine/ So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane/ You want a revolution? I want a revelation!” It’s not only a revolution against monarchy, but patriarchy she’s aiming for. Groff’s King George/ Angelica: “So listen to my declaration/ We hold these truths to be self-evident/ That all men are created equal/ And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/ I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” This is a King George that American millennials –and maybe their British counterparts, too–can love.” WORK!
- I’m looking forward to talking about the Hamilton phenomenon with my graduate students next week, along with Andrew Schocket’s “Ron Chernow’s Hamilton is Not Throwing Away Its Second Shot” at Process: a blog for American history, the OAH blog. We’ve been talking in class all semester long about more or less effective ways that historians can engage the public with their research and ideas. I’m also looking forward to reading and discussing Schocket’s recent book, Fighting over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution (2015) with my HIST 341 students next term. You can see Andy’s blog here, if you want to learn more.
- ICYMI, my grad class next week is also going to review and discuss “#hamildays: A Hamilton –Inspired Journey through the Stacks” of the American Antiquarian Society, which was itself inspired by the Instagram account of project cataloger Amy Tims (aka rarebkcat) in which she found and photographed one or more items in the AAS collections to correspond with every song in the Hamilton cast album and posted them under the #Hamildays hashtag. This is a very well-done experiment in the use of social media by a historical institution to engage a different and perhaps wider public than their usual clientele, and to make links between its collections and contemporary pop culture.
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!