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Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton' and the Inclusive Future Of American History

Roundup
tags: theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton



Ian Reifowitz graduated from Brown University with a BA in history and from Georgetown University with a PhD in history. Since 2002, he has taught history at Empire State College of the State University of New York.  He is the author of "Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity," forthcoming in July 2012 from Potomac Books. 

Alexander Hamilton died exactly two hundred and eleven years ago today, killed in a duel -- incredibly -- by the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr. On the very same island where Hamilton drew his last breath, he has been brought back to life, this time on the Broadway stage. Furthermore, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton points the way toward our future as a people by looking back at our past in a revolutionary manner. As Miranda himself put it, he is "telling the story of someone who I don't think would expect it to be told in this way."

Not only is the play written by a Nuyorican whose ethnic background differs from that of the title character, the cast as a whole consists largely of black and Hispanic Americans playing Founding Fathers, i.e., the Americans most likely to come to mind when one thinks of the dead, white males that have long dominated our history. However, they are not simply black and brown faces speaking and acting in the same way elites of the late eighteenth century did. Miranda has given us characters, to cite one example, that include "a Thomas Jefferson who swaggers like the Time's Morris Day, sings like Cab Calloway and drawls like a Dirty South trap-rapper."

It is this integration that so interests me, because it represents where we as a country and as a people need to head. Strengthening our collective sense of ourselves as a single people -- diverse yet unified -- is crucial to our future. Of the various metaphors used to describe our national identity (e.g., melting pot, mosaic, salad), it is the metaphor of gumbo that strikes me as both the most accurate and the one for which a healthy society should aim. 

In his take on the topic, President Obama explained: "[Gumbo]'s not a thin soup. It's got these big chunks of stuff in it. But those things are seasoning each other." His point, with which I agree, is that there is a common, shared culture, but there are also new ingredients always being added to it. Both interact with each other, as the new ingredients absorb the flavor of the soup while influencing it as well. What Miranda has done with Alexander Hamilton & Co. offers a perfect example of what Obama, on another occasion, called the "constant cross-pollination [that] is occurring ... Identities are scrambling, and then cohering in new ways."

Miranda's artistic creation would be impossible without empathy, which, to again quote the president, means the ability to "stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes." We can see this empathy in the following comment: "When I encountered Alexander Hamilton I was immediately captivated," Miranda says. "He's an inspirational figure to me. And an aspirational one." ...

Read entire article at Huffington Post


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