Guest Post: 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

The American Revolution: The TV Series

TV-test-patternA couple of weeks ago, the American History Guys at Backstory took on the issue of representations of history in film. Of most direct interest to those of us here at the Junto was the interview of Mark Peterson by Peter Onuf, asking why there were so few movies about the American Revolution, and why they were so terrible. The answer Peterson proffered was about patricide. The difficulty of evoking sympathy for the killing of a father figure that wasn’t manifestly evil led the British to be portrayed as caricatured villains – and even Hollywood audiences weren’t buying a tale so badly spun. Continue reading