Annette Gordon-Reed on “Hamilton”


Hamilton the musical that is.

In a recently published piece at Vox, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon-Reed argues that the “intense debates” surrounding the Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Broadway smash “don’t diminish the musical, they enrich it.”

Here is a taste:

Hamilton is attractive on numerous levels — and to different audiences simultaneously. There is no wonder that its depiction of the founding generation would have instant appeal among ardent consumers of what journalist Evan Thomas described back in 2001 as “Founders Chic.” That genre celebrates the derring-do and personal characters of a handful of men (with occasional nods to their consorts) who supposedly “made” the Revolution and the Early American Republic.

On the other hand, for the past several decades academic historians have complicated the founding narrative by expanding the cast of characters involved in it: Native Americans, poor whites, blacks (enslaved and free), and women. With this has come a more intense focus on the problematic aspects of that era — Indian removal, slavery, and the construction of white supremacy.

Yet such is Hamilton’s aesthetic merits that I, and other of my colleagues who have been deeply involved in the project of complicating the narrative, have managed to fall in love with the play, despite its groundings in a triumphant founding narrative. Evidently, many of us enjoy feeling good about America too, though we insist on remembering and discussing the tragedy that was every bit as integral to our country’s beginnings as the positive aspects. It makes perfect sense that these two impulses — to celebrate and to complicate — should be a part of discussions of Hamilton’s cultural message and historical accuracy.

Read the entire piece here.