You probably know that line about the Federalist from the Act One finale of Hamilton, “Non-Stop,” in which Aaron Burr repeatedly asks Hamilton, “how do you write like you’re running out of time?” In the musical, his indefatigable pen is treated as a virtue (and yes, I have at times listened to the number on repeat to motivate my own writing). By contrast, scholars frequently point out that the eighty-five Federalist essays were not widely reprinted when they were first written in late 1787 and early 1788, even if they have since garnered attention as a clear statement of the views of (some of) the Founders on the meaning of the Constitution.
Hilary Mantel recently gave the annual BBC Reith Lecture in which she described why she became a historical novelist. Printed inThe Guardian, Mantel argued that culture and genes, history and science, put “our small lives in context.” Mantel’s work is of course separated from the theme of this roundtable by two degrees, as she is neither a writer of YA nor of Early America, but the broader question I think she was trying to answer—why we write about what we do—resonate in a conversation on #FoundingFiction. Continue reading →
Three things happened in the last couple weeks to put Hamilton back on my mind: 1) the Victoria Palace Theatre in London announced that tickets for the show would finally (finally!) go on sale in January, 2) I started re-reading some of my research notes for this round of book edits, and 3) police arrested and pepper-sprayed peaceful Native Americans—Standing Rock Sioux, along with 90 additional nations and tribes—who were protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I find that being a historian is a job of intellectual mood swings. I read my sources telling me about the horrible things some of the people I study did in the past, and then I have to pull back and contextualize their actions within an eighteenth-century milieu in which many people were terrible people most of the time by 2016’s standards (and people, our standards these days are low). All this is a longish way of saying that I, like many historians, love Hamilton while recognizing that its treatment of Early Republic history misrepresents and sometimes leaves out some of the topics that matter most to me as a historian. And so today I want to talk about Hamilton, settler colonialism, and Native American history—in particular, about land battles and the relationship between Indians, federal governments, and state entities. Continue reading →
With Hamilton’s sweep at the Tonys last night, this year’s phenomenal tide of Hamilton-mania has hit the high-water mark. You’ve cheered each much-deserved award and accolade, you’ve memorized every word of the soundtrack, you’ve devoured the #Hamiltome. Perhaps you’ve kept up with professionalhistorians’ widerangeofresponsesto Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky few who’ve managed to score tickets to the show itself. But now, fans of the musical (and folks who are simply surrounded by them) might well find themselves asking, #WhatComesNext?
The Junto has the answer! Tomorrow afternoon, when you lose the daily ticket lottery yet again, why not start lookin’ for a mind at work? Grab a great history book and drown your sorrows in a flagon of sweet American Revolution knowledge. Here are some picks, creatively paired with favorite characters from the musical. Continue reading →
We are pleased to share this guest post from Michelle Orihel, an Assistant Professor of History at Southern Utah University. Dr. Orihel received her doctorate from Syracuse University and is currently working on a book manuscript about Democratic-Republican Societies in the post-revolutionary period.
When I first listened to the Hamilton soundtrack last fall, the song “Farmer Refuted” caught my attention. The song stages a pamphlet war that began in November 1774 between Samuel Seabury, an Anglican minister in Westchester County, New York, and Alexander Hamilton, then an upstart New York college student. Their war of words over the First Continental Congress carried on for nearly four months and encompassed several tracts. Continue reading →
How does a crony capitalist son of a whore, and a militarist pumped up by delusional aspirations of honor, grow up to be feted by liberal scholars? [*]
Since the turn of the millennium, historians have lambasted the phenomenon of Founders Chic as a fundamental distortion of history. Placing the roles of specific, prominent individuals at the heart of sweeping narratives of the founding era meant that popular histories exaggerated the importance of individuals, at the expense of understanding the contribution of less-celebrated Americans or the role of broader societal and historical processes. Yet much of the reception of Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway, seems to suggest that hagiography is acceptable, so long as it’s done to a catchy song-and-dance routine. It’s as if the only problem with Joseph Ellis, David McCullough and Ron Chernow is that they didn’t write to a hip-hop soundtrack. Continue reading →
Why does Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fantastically successful Broadway musical about the founder, skip over most of the 1780s in just one song?
The time from the victory at Yorktown to the Constitutional Convention was almost as long as the war itself, yet in the musical it merits barely a verse. Perhaps that’s not so unusual when it comes to public understanding of the founding era. But it’s worth asking what it’s all about. Eliding the 1780s reflects the way the shorthand narrative of the American Revolution goes—straight from victory in the War of Independence on to the new constitution and federal government, “non-stop.” Missing out most of the 1780s is the only way to make the revolution look like a single, coherent event. It smooths over a history that was riven with conflict and alternative possibilities, and makes it look like a straightforward path towards the federal republic that we know emerged. Continue reading →