Bastard out of Nevis: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”

We are pleased to feature a guest post from Benjamin Carp (@bencarp), the Daniel M. Lyons Professor of American History at Brooklyn College, CUNY. Carp is the author of both Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America and Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution.

“I want the historians to respect this.” -Lin-Manuel Miranda, according to Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull (after painting by Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1801); National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of Henry Cabot Lodge

In the lobby of the Public Theater, two statues flanked the doorway—the likenesses of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr stretched out their arms and aimed their dueling pistols at one another, and it was hard not to feel as if I was standing in the middle. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, wrote the musical Hamilton and stars in the title role. He portrays the first Secretary of the Treasury as a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman” and an immigrant striver made good; throughout his career, Hamilton is arrogant about his talents but perpetually insecure about his place. As told by Miranda, Hamilton is both self-made and self-unmade, wry and seductive and yet constantly raging against anyone who might hold him back. Continue reading

State Lotteries in the Early Republic: Or What I Learned from John Oliver

John_Oliver_Lottery.png.CROP.promo-mediumlargeI originally planned to title this post: “Do I have to thank John Oliver in my dissertation acknowledgments?” In the first season finale of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, Oliver did a segment on state lotteries (NSFW, crude language), many of which fund education. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I devote a decent chunk of space discussing lotteries to fund schools in the critical period and early republic. If anything makes my research cool to non-academics, it’s that I can relate some of it to this John Oliver bit. Continue reading

Murder!: Entangled History, String Theory, and Narrative

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On a dark and stormy night in July of 1729, a vicious murder occurred in the port city of Veracruz. Okay, I don’t actually know if it was stormy on that night, nor was the murder particularly vicious but, for narrative effect, bear with me. On the evening in question, a Dominican priest accompanied by an entourage of the town’s residents walked to the trading factory of the British South Sea Company to pay the factors a visit. According to Inquisition records, as the group approached the factory, shots were fired from within the building, and the Dominican priest fell dead. The man who fired the fatal shots—William Booth[1]—claimed that he had not recognized the priest and fired in self-defense. As Booth argued, marauders frequently roamed the streets after dark and he assumed the visitors wanted to rob him. Booth was sentenced to five years hard labor in North Africa—a veritable death sentence—and the South Sea Company’s factory in Veracruz barely survived the incident, which reached the diplomatic tables of Europe.[2] Continue reading

Guest Post: [Enter Catchy Title Here]: Working towards a Book Title

Today’s guest poster, Christopher Minty, is a Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts. He received his PhD from the University of Stirling. His current book project examines the role of popular partisanship and its effects on New Yorkers’ allegiances on the eve of the American Revolution. He is also the author of two previous guest posts at The Junto, “The Problem of Loyalism before the American Revolution” and “Working on the Papers of Francis Bernard.”

UntitledI like eye-catching book titles. Who doesn’t, right? A good title should run of the tongue without too much fuss, while also championing the main argument(s) of the book. Recent books with titles that caught my eye include Benjamin Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty, Jessica Roney’s Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, and Albrecht Koschnik’s “Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together.” To be sure, there are others, and they are held together by a common thread: Despite looking at different periods with different objectives, each title offers a snapshot of what the reader can expect to find. Continue reading

Serial, Microhistory, and the Perils of Historical Research

I’ve been listening to Serial again. Part of this is the spate of articles and interviews that attack (perhaps not persuasively) the foundations of Sarah Koenig’s research and reporting. Another reason is that, as someone in the midst of researching and writing a dissertation, I find Serial’s storytelling and depth of research very compelling and inspiring. At the same time, as a historian, the popular podcast has left me deeply troubled and uncomfortable with its final product. Continue reading

Do Ideas Have Roots?

Exposed_mango_tree_rootsContemporary culture loves origin stories. It’s not just that when we make our superhero movies, we always start with the origin—we even like to start the same franchises over and over again. For historians, the allure of the origin can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to see why. To borrow a phrase from David Marquand’s ecstatic review of Inventing the Individual, origin stories “persuade us to ask ourselves who we are and where we are going by showing us where we have come from.” The idea of finding in the past the hidden meaning of our present can be the very thing that captivates people about history in the first place. Continue reading

Reading the Field from a Book: Some Thoughts on Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution

Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding is, to put it simply, an important book. It is perhaps, the most important book on the Revolution in almost a decade. Yet, at the same time, its argument, methodology, and importance are indicative of (one might say, testament to) the long-standing stasis in which Revolution studies has been mired for a very long time. This post is less reviewing the book itself than exploring its relationship with its historiographical context regarding Revolution studies as a whole and, particularly, its origins and causes. In a sense, I want to read the field from the book rather than the reading the book from the field.[1] Continue reading