#hamildays: A Hamilton-Inspired Journey Through the Stacks

Introduction

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I listened to the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton for the first time on October 8, 2015. I was on the train to visit friends in New Jersey (“everything is legal in New Jersey”*), and I decided to finally succumb to my friend’s importunings about how I had to listen to this album because it was phenomenal and brilliant and I would really like it. After some futzing with my phone’s data settings, I started streaming Hamilton.

*Blow Us All Away, Act II, Track 16.

It was phenomenal and brilliant and I really liked it. Or, as I wrote to my friend, “The Hamilton cast recording is so good. It was perfect train listening, and then it's also just really freaking excellently written and executed (and I don't even get the inter-textual references to any of the musical traditions out of which it comes).”

Hamilton: An American Musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant to the United States from the Caribbean island of St. Croix who attended King’s College (now Columbia University), fought in the Revolutionary War, served as the first Secretary of the Treasury, became embroiled in the first public political sex scandal in the United States, and died in a duel with Aaron Burr, then the Vice President. In other words, Alexander Hamilton lived a full life, and, in 2005, the historian Ron Chernow published Alexander Hamilton, an award-winning biography that narrated that life in detail.

The composer/actor/rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda then adapted Alexander Hamilton by Chernow into the musical Hamilton. As the story goes, Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Chernow’s biography to read on vacation (see @Lin-Manuel, twitter post of June 15, 2015). Alexander Hamilton’s life inspired Miranda, and he started writing the Hamilton Mixtape, a hiphop concept album about Alexander Hamilton, and performed “Alexander Hamilton” at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word in 2009. (The Hamilton Broadway cast has since visited the White House, where President Obama [timestamp 43:50] gave opening remarks and the cast performed [timestamp 53:50].) Miranda’s work with Hamilton’s story evolved into the musical Hamilton, which draws heavily from the historical record—some songs include direct quotations from historical pamphlets, which made my geeky heart thrilled—albeit with details fictionalized in order to craft a more theatrical story.

Tickets to Hamilton on Broadway are difficult (practically impossible) to obtain. However, the show is sung through, without additional spoken dialogue, and the entirety of the musical is represented on the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording, which was available for streaming via NPR’s First Listen prior to its release and can now be streamed via Spotify and Amazon Prime Music. That’s how I’ve experienced the Hamilton musical—not by seeing the musical on stage, but through listening to the cast recording. (Followed by re-listening to the cast recording, then listening to it some more, then inserting quotations from the lyrics of varying degrees of relevancy into conversations with people both enthusiastic—my fellow fans—and deeply confused—everyone else.)

In addition to being a fan of Hamilton, I’m also a rare book cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), an institution dedicated to preserving materials printed in what is now the United States through 1876. I work in a building with miles of shelves that hold materials documenting the history of the United States, including the Revolutionary War and early Republic, and some of it is directly associated with Alexander Hamilton. My point of connection to history is the stuff of it, the material objects that I work with during my professional life.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, I wondered if I could find materials in AAS’s stacks that connected to the music that I was listening to on repeat. Specifically, I wondered if I could find the constitution of the orphanage founded by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton’s wife) and other women of New York. Once I sorted out what the orphanage was called in AAS’s catalog—Orphan Asylum Society (New York, N.Y)—I succeeded at that quest, which led to me thinking that, perhaps, I could find other materials that connected to Hamilton.

Thus began #hamildays, my exploration of AAS’s holdings inspired by Hamilton, a journey which I recorded on Instagram. As a social media platform designed to share pictures, Instagram seemed like a good way to let interested people see what I had found without bombarding my friends and colleagues with a barrage of excited emails about items that I had just discovered. Furthermore, since Instagram allows users to tag posts by using hashtags for key words and phrases, making them searchable across the platform, I could gather all of my Hamilton-inspired posts using the #hamildays hashtag (hence the title of this archive). So, with the booklets of lyrics in hand and a catalog search screen before me I started my investigation of AAS’s stacks.

Ambitiously, I decided to see if I could find materials that connected to all forty-six songs in the musical, a decision that I don’t regret (even if there were times during the process when I wondered if I’d been a bit too ambitious). I used the lyrics as a springboard to wind my way through AAS’s collections, visiting collections that I was very familiar with, such as the Dated Books Collection (books published in North America prior to 1821), and collections that were completely new to me, such as the Currency. At times, the materials I looked at illustrated the song (I couldn’t resist posting the Reynolds Pamphlet), and at other times the connection was very “inspired by” (did you know that there was a Dr. Alexander Hamilton who wrote obstetrics books?).

By the end of the #hamildays project in March 2016, I had posted fifty images from twenty-eight collections, taken hundreds of pictures, and performed innumerable catalog searches. It truly was a romp through AAS’s collections, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I got to dig into some of the material artifacts of United States history, and I learned a lot during the process about both the historical figures featured in Hamilton and the collecting practices of AAS. Thus the project rested until now.

Now, #hamildays has become the first AAS Instagram Archive (or, #AASInstaArchive). AAS is an historically-minded institution, and, although Instagram is a great platform, it favors recent posts. Therefore, when the question of archiving #hamildays and making it available on a non-Instagram platform arose, AAS decided to host an archive of the #hamildays project: all of the images, the text, and the random asides are included. I did make some edits between the posts as originally written on Instagram and the posts as presented here. I wrote many of these posts rather late in the evening, and, unsurprisingly, some typos crept in, which have been cleaned up. Additionally, I tweaked some phrasing for clarity, made some of the citations fuller, italicized titles, and, on one occasion marked by “ETA [edited to add],” added text. Finally, all posts have been placed in track order, and extraneous personal comments, such as my adventures at a Star Wars marathon and holiday cooking, have been removed.

The #hamildays #AASInstaArchive is divided into two sections, mirroring the two acts of the Hamilton musical. Act I covers Hamilton’s birth, education, and Revolutionary War service; Act II covers his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury, political downfall, and his death. You can click through each image to see the full-size version. Finally, there’s a link to the original post on Instagram alongside each image, after the track number.

I’d like to thank AAS staff who helped me with #hamildays and with transforming it into the first #AASInstaArchive, especially Lauren Hewes, Kayla Hopper, and Caroline Stoffel. Lauren enthused about Hamilton with me, helped me navigate collections, and let me bounce #hamildays ideas off of her as the project developed. Kayla provided immense support when transforming a personal Instagram project into a web publication, helping me shape the text for a new audience, tracking down typos, and smoothing out infelicitous and unintelligible prose. Caroline built the #hamildays website from the ground up, mobilizing her skills and learning new ones to create a new type of online resource at AAS and being endlessly patient as our ideas changed and evolved. Finally, I’d like to thank Brenna Bychowski, who insisted (rightly so!) that I really ought to listen to Hamilton and who, after I fell in love with it, pointed me to #Ham4Ham videos, matched me random Hamilton quote for random Hamilton quote, loaned me several of the books I consulted throughout the project, and shared her opinions when I dithered about which image to post on more than one occasion.

The voice and opinions (and any errors!) throughout #hamildays remain my own, and do not represent the American Antiquarian Society. #hamildays images and text are available under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

I hope you enjoy reading #hamildays as much as I enjoyed assembling it.

A.L. Tims

June 10, 2016

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