Monday Muse: Release the History Nerd!

Hey, guys! ‘Tis I, the non-theater-y member of Nerd Cactus. Yeah…the really nerdy one, who has to swallow her tendencies to talk about history and mythology ALL THE TIME.

(It’s C. I’m C. Just in case that wasn’t obvious.)

I’m actually forcing myself to sit through the Grammys so I can catch the Hamilton performance (which, according to the Twitter feed, is pretty much what everyone else is doing, too). It’s probably the one show on Broadway I’m more excited about than A is. (Apparently, she did not like In the Heights. I know nothing about that show. I have heard of it. I do not know it.) But it’s got nothing to do with the music, or the rapping (which is the music, so I’m not sure why I mentioned it separately), or even the amazingly integrated cast.

Alexander Hamilton is one of my favorite people in American History. And that is pretty much the single most important thing about the musical for me: Hamilton is getting some much-deserved attention. Broadway is teaching people about ONE OF MY HISTORY NERD TRIGGERS!

(Note: NO ONE WRITE A MUSICAL ABOUT HEDY LAMARR! I’m calling dibs on that. You all heard it. DIBS ON HEDY LAMARR!)

Let me go history nerd for a moment. Please. I refrain SO OFTEN. SO MUCH MORE OFTEN THAN I WANT TO! (I’m excitable right now. Please forgive me.) When I start talking about history, so many people get glazed eyes. They do that ‘nod and smile’ thing I do when people start talking about math and science (but mostly because I have *no idea* what’s being said, which is not an excuse for history no matter what anyone says). So…indulge me.

Alexander Hamilton is one of the three writers of The Federalist (along with James Madison and John Jay). For me, this is probably one of the most significant things he ever did. Why? Those papers argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in a time when that really wasn’t a guarantee. A lot of people thought the Constitution represented giving the Federal Gov’t too much power. You see, far from representing a curtailing of federal powers, the Constitution–in historical context–represented a vast expansion of those powers. Following the events of Shay’s Rebellion, a number of our Founders (including George Washington, who came out of retirement to do so) decided the government needed more authority. The principle authority being the unassailable right of the government to set and enforce taxation levels (because of Shay’s Rebellion).

But the process of crafting and ratifying the Constitution was not an easy one. There were so many against these expansions. You need only look at the Anti-Federalist to see that. And, while it is James Madison who deserves the credit for crafting the document itself, it is the three men (including Madison) arguing for the necessity of these changes to whom I give my love. And Alexander Hamilton in particular. I don’t know what it is about him that drew my attention. I assume his tragic death had a lot to do with it. Hamilton was there to help birth the nation and should have been one of the next generation to take it forward, like Madison, who became President, and Jay, who became Chief Justice. And he wasn’t.

All that genius. All that potentiality lost. And, even more so, all that he DID…erased by the circumstances of his death. He has become “that guy who died in a duel” or even “that guy on the $10 bill”. And don’t even get me started with the rage I feel (probably an undue amount) vis a vis replacing him. For Pete’s sake, gov’t…take Jackson off the $20! It’s not like Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury or anything…oh wait. Yes he was. Put the woman on the $20! Jackson would be OK with that; he hated the treasury!

Hamilton was also George Washington’s aide-de-camp for much of the American Revolution. In a sense, he was the great man’s protege. His legacy embodied. So much potential, so much greatness…and he’s just that guy Aaron Burr killed.

Until now. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda read a book and decided Hamilton’s life made a great story. He realized history didn’t have to be padded (too much) or sexified (too much) to be cool. You don’t have to go full-Braveheart (which is my version of “full retard” when it comes to history movies–I *HATE* Braveheart) to celebrate what has come before. You just have to find a way to bring it alive for your audience. A way to make them connect to what can seem like dust and ink for those of us living hundreds of years later. A thread of life between now and then, us and them. And Hamilton found that.

Boy did Hamilton find that. And I, as a historian and a storyteller, am so freaking excited that it happened to one of my favorite people from the past. One of the people instrumental to the making of America, both in his life and in the hole he left with his death.

So. Back to the Grammys. Boy, they’re really stretching this out, aren’t they? Though…Stevie Wonder was pretty damn awesome. He’s always awesome. I love him.

C

ps- I finished as soon as it came on!!!!

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