Cover of the musical "Hamilton". © Disney

How Hamilton handles History


Uh, I like that title. I like a good alliteration like the next guy. Anyway, I recently listened to the rather famous musical Hamilton, which is broadly about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who served as the first Secretary of Treasury during George Washington’s presidency. If you don’t know, now you know

What is the musical about?

Hamilton is a sung-and-rapped-through biographical musical with music, lyrics, and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Based on the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, the musical covers the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his involvement in the American Revolution and the political history of the early United States.

I have been listening to musicals since I was a child, but I have to say, that Hamilton is one of the better ones. I know that this is basically what everyone is saying, but I formed my own opinion and have to agree. It has good music, great performances and if you listen (or watch) it several times, you always discover something new.

How Hamilton handles History

Scene from "Hamilton" of the song "The room where it happened". © Disney
Scene from “Hamilton” of the song “The room where it happened” | © Disney

One of the songs has caught my eye (or ear) in particular. In the year 1790, a time where the modern United States have formed, a secret meeting between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison took place. The so-called “compromise of 1790” or “dinner table bargain” secured a financial plan for Hamilton and decided where to put the capital (now Washington D.C.).

The thing is, historians are not really sure what happened exactly during that meeting, as all of this has taken place behind closed doors. Here, the genius of Miranda comes into play. Because he could not reconstruct history for this event, he wrote a song called “The Room Where It Happens”:

“No one else was in the room where it happened,” Hamilton’s Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom Jr., sings. “No one really knows how the game is played/ The art of the trade/ How the sausage gets made/ We just assume that it happens.”

Why this is interesting to me

Because! I have often written about how history is shown in video games and one common problem is, that video game producers have to create games that are entertaining. This argument is usually used to conclude any discussion about historical (or archaeological) accuracy. Because the game has to be fun, video game producers have to twist history to make it more entertaining.

Here is the “pièce de résistance“: No one will argue the entertaining factor of the musical Hamilton. Miranda was trying to keep the historical facts straight. Even in a situation were he couldn’t, because we don’t know what happened in that room, he came up with a very creative solution to a common problem. Isn’t that something video game producers can do? I think yes! What do you think?



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Sebastian Hageneuer

Hi! My name is Sebastian. I am an archaeologist, a university lecturer, freelancer, guitarist, and father. You could say I am quiet busy, so I learned to manage my time and energy to build good habits and still have space for myself and my family. Sounds difficult? Read here how I do it. Every Friday.

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