With the Grammys on Sunday, Hamilton has been on my mind. While Annabel Barry ’19 has previously commented on motive in Hamilton, I’d like to focus this week’s Tortoise Tuesday on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s methodology in telling Alexander Hamilton’s story.
What is most intriguing about Hamilton is of course, its subject: America’s “forgotten” founding father. But a little over 3 years after Hamilton’s release, a Google Trends comparison between Alexander Hamilton and his counterparts shows that he is anything but “forgotten”. Interest clearly spiked in August 2015, as Hamilton made its Broadway debut.
If Lin-Manuel Miranda’s motive in writing Hamilton was to draw attention to Alexander Hamilton’s story, then he has clearly succeeded where others have not. After all, Alexander Hamilton has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of biographies and documentaries. What sets Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work apart is his creative methodology, specifically his use of the musical format.
Starting with a supposedly forgotten subject, as opposed to a more familiar figure, such as George Washington, Miranda had his work cut out for him. The audience enters unassuming, possibly skeptical of a historical musical set in the 1700s (that is, if they haven’t read the glowing reviews yet). However, using a musical — not just any musical but a rap musical — Miranda inserts vibrant elements of artistry, nearly disguising the fact that, at its core, Hamilton is a historical account.
What makes a musical a good methodology? Musicals are similar to television in the sense that you typically don’t expect or wish to gain a history lesson from watching an episode of your favorite drama. However, unlike television, musicals are able to subtly insert otherwise dry historical information in the form of song lyrics. Hamilton capitalizes on this opportunity, leaving the audience with a number of catchy, jazzy, eclectic songs to listen to on repeat, lyrics that easily rival even the “best” of rap, and most importantly, without even realizing it… a newfound interest in and knowledge about Alexander Hamilton.
While not everyone may be able to write and produce a musical to communicate their R3 or senior thesis, I challenge you to think more openly about methodology in your next piece of academic or personal writing. What is the best, most engaging way to communicate your research, your analysis, your argument, your interests? It may just be a musical.
— Ellie Shapiro ’21