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Using Hamilton to Teach History

Updated on June 15, 2016



Hamilton, learning American History

Hamilton is the hottest show on Broadway. It is a unique and great idea not only because of the music, but it is an excellent tool to teach people about an event in American History. The rap lyrics and rhythms are intriguing and addictive; it whets the appetite and provides an excellent way to get more children and grownups interested in a story about our nation.

PBS NewsHour Hip-hop and history blend for Broadway hit ‘Hamilton’

Ways to use Hamilton to teach

There are many ways to use Hamilton as a teaching tool and there are many teachers who will come up with more creative ideas than I present in this article. Students can research the life of Alexander Hamilton and write their own rap lyrics, poetry, or stories. According to an article from KQED News, Andrea Moverman, a teacher from Millennium Brooklyn High School,

To help her students understand the arguments for and against creating a national bank — a subject many kids might find snooze-worthy — Moverman played the song Cabinet Battle #1, which pitted Alexander Hamilton in a rap duel against Thomas Jefferson. Her students’ delight over this exchange prompted Moverman to assign rap battles as projects; she divided kids into competing sides and asked them to craft arguments in rap form. One of her favorite rap battles: two opposing camps debating the legacy of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, some representing plaintiffs and others defendants, and all relying on major court cases to make their case.

I’ve thought of rap as poetry and as a form of writing, but never thought about rap as a way to debate. It is as long as the rules of debate and logic are followed. The rap has to make sense, it must be factual, logical, and it must debate the argument, not the person stating the opposing view. This is one way to teach students to write logically and persuasively. It also teaches them how to develop a logical argument.

One teacher uses the musical to learn about Hamilton’s life. He has his students glean facts from reading documents relating to the lives of Hamilton’s contemporaries. From the Newsweek article,

So Cullen did the inevitable: He designed an entire course centered on Hamilton (the figure) and Hamilton (the show). He’ll be teaching Hamilton: A Musical Inquiry in the fall. Students will be asked to sift through primary sources like George Washington’s farewell address and show tunes like “One Last Time” and “Washington on Your Side”; one essay assignment is to pick a song from the cast recording and analyze it.

Alexander Hamilton


Hamilton is not the first Broadway show that has become a teaching tool. MIss Saigon has been used have a discussion about racism and cultural differences.

Is "Miss Saigon" Racist? Cast Members Meet Protesters To Discuss

Lea Salonga - I'd Give My Life for You (Miss Saigon in Manila)

South Pacific is another.

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught - Matthew Morrison & Paulo Szot (South Pacific)

In review

  • Hamilton, the Musical is being used by many teachers to teach American History

  • It provides a fun and interesting way to teach logical and persuasive writing

  • Can be used to teach debating

  • Is not the first Broadway show that has been or can be used as a teaching tool

Aaron Burr, Sir


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