“How does a catchy, hip-hop, history phenomenon…”
Okay, so that’s all I’ve got. Although, I do know most of the words to Hamilton‘s opening song, I’ll leave the genius song writing to Mr. Miranda. The point is, I adore Hamilton.
Not only does the hit musical fulfill some nerdy passion I have for anything set during the American Revolution (don’t even get me started on AMC’s Turn), but I think the piece is a genius piece of public history. People across the country who probably never gave the life of Alexander Hamilton a second thought, now know far more about him than they ever did before. Not only that, but by presenting it to the public, particularly youth audiences, in a medium that they recognize (it’s not JUST a musical filled with showtunes, but a hip-hop musical cast with actors of a variety of ethnic backgrounds) Lin-Manuel Miranda has made the story relatable. Perhaps a movie with period dialogue wouldn’t get to them, but Miranda has thrown all of that pretense aside to bring the story to audiences traditionally not interested in a Founding Father’s biography. It’s genius!
I recently read an article in which academic historians noted all of the reasons why Hamilton shouldn’t be praised. Miranda his perpetuating “Founder’s Chic.” He’s only presenting a basic biography, which ignores all of the nuances of Hamilton’s character, creates a shallow portrait of Burr, and the list could go on. The message was “Please, sir, leave the history to the professionals.” Well, dear professionals, I don’t see you creating anything that is either appealing or accessible to a general audience! Creating content for the academic circles and bringing new understandings to light is important, but you need to either be part of the solution (getting accurate historical knowledge to the people) or leave that work to the public historians, who are actually good at it and more interested in that than showing up the other scholars. But, in the meantime, it seems that you should be applauding any attempt by an individual to bring history to the public. The average person doesn’t NEED to know the nuances of Hamilton’s character flaws, but knowing the basic facts about his life (which, in reality, is what most audience members will take from Hamilton) is an improvement than knowing than nothing. And maybe it will inspire historical curiosity in those audience members and they will begin reading themselves. Because really, inspiring an interest in the past is one of my biggest goals as a public historian.