Book Review, Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America’s Past

Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America’s Past. Renee C. Romano and Claire Bond Potter, eds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018; Pp. 399.

A new addition to Hamilton scholarship, Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America’s Past marks another valuable collaboration between its editors, Renee C. Romano and Claire Bond Potter. Consisting of fifteen insightful essays, the book presents adroitly composed analyses of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton as well as its surrounding historical, cultural, social, political, and racial implications. Constructed by historians from a wide array of fields ranging from American Studies and theatre studies to history and Africana Studies, Historians on Hamilton takes up “the challenge that Miranda himself made to us when he was just beginning to write the show, ‘I want the historians to take this seriously’” (6). The scholars herein rigorously examine the musical’s relationship to history and how history is made, the claim of Hamilton as a revolutionary musical, and the musical’s proposed theatrical innovations and historical omissions.

Following the introduction that sets up the tone and content, the book is divided into three sections: “Act I: The Script,” “Act II: The Stage,” and “Act III: The Audience,” each consisting of five essays. The first part begins with William Hogeland’s essay, “From Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton to Hamilton: An American Musical,” which posits that any historical inaccuracies in the musical are due, in part, to not only imprecisions in the source material (Ron Chernow’s biography), but also a lack of necessary criticism of Chernow’s work from professional historians. This section also features essays by Joanne B. Freeman, Lyra D. Monteiro, and Leslie M. Harris, who explore Alexander Hamilton’s politics, the complications associated with the casting of Hamilton, and New York City’s historical past with slavery, respectively. The section closes with Catherine Allgor’s illuminating essay, “‘Remember…I’m Your Man’: Masculinity, Marriage, and Gender in Hamilton,” which introduces readers to “coverture, or the system of laws that defined women’s subordinate legal status” (96). Allgor showcases coverture’s absence from the musical and advocates for historians and theatregoers to use Hamilton’s popularity as a means to understand coverture and its legacy in the contemporary political lexicon.

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