Merging History and Pop Culture, And Making It Interesting Too

It’s not everyday that an eleven-year-old kid picks up and reads an 800-page book, let alone one about a historical figure. But this is exactly the case with Ron Chernow’s book “Hamilton”. Chernow, who came to speak at Drew on Wednesday night, mentioned that many young children have approached him claiming they have read his long and complicated biography. Plenty of these young readers had their interests sparked by the homonymous Broadway hit. The Tony Award-winning musical has provided a way for a new generation to learn the story of the founding fathers of the United States. The catchy hip hop songs and lyrics written by Lin-Manuel Miranda provide new views of iconic figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and, of course, Alexander Hamilton. The musical also sheds light on the roles of women in this period of history by introducing strong and interesting characters like Angelica Schuyler and Elizabeth Hamilton. But most of all, this format allows people who might not be inclined to read a massive biography to still learn about these key figures and become interested and invested in their lives. Hamilton, both book and show, has brought U.S. history out of the past and into pop culture.

But what about young children reading about Hamilton’s life? Usually a musical does not become a way for people to learn good history, but that is where “Hamilton” stands out. Chernow said that in most cases, when historical stories are told, material is added to make it more interesting for the audience. Fight scenes and romance might make a story more interesting, but these are usually added at the cost of historical accuracy. Chernow, who served as historical consultant for the musical, said that he was happy at how close the show’s telling of the story mirrors actual facts. He doesn’t believe that a story needs to be changed in order to make it more exciting for an audience. If the story is good, there is no need to dumb it down. Due to this fact, it has become possible for teachers to incorporate it into their classes as a way of getting students interested in history. After Chernow’s lecture he opened the floor to questions, and one audience members was a teacher who asked him for advice to get her students engaged in history. Chernow’s answer was to not underestimate young students. If children are interested enough in the subject they will go through hundreds of pages of writing even when the target audience age is way above theirs. Encouraging children to read any book that interests them is the only option to have an educated next generation. By talking down to children and giving them books “appropriate for their age” we limit their enthusiasm and hinder their progress.

Since it came out, the Hamilton musical has received great amounts of praise. Along with all of its incredible choreography, set design and lyrics, the show should also be praised with being a fairly accurate portrayal of an important founding father. Both children and adults can relate to the story, which is also not that common. If you would like to see what all the hype is about, give the soundtrack a listen or, maybe, pick up the book. I mean, do you really want to be outdone by an eleven-year-old?

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