Jumping on the Bandwagon

Looking for ideas for the weekend and the weeks ahead? Check out our list of things to do in July on the Trails of History!

I've never been accused of being an early adopter of anything. Cutting edge? Not me. I like to let other people take the risks, do the legwork, push the boundaries. So, it will come as no surprise that it took me until this week to jump on the "Hamilton" bandwagon. Sure, I've enjoyed seeing a couple of samples on the Tony Awards broadcasts and heard snippets here and there. But what finally propelled me to buy the album (on the iTunes) was a public radio segment about an educational program in NYC largely generated by the popularity of the show. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History partnered with scholars, educators, and the cast and crew of "Hamilton" to develop educational resources, a curriculum, and provide tickets for 20,000 students (at $10 a pop). The program I listened to included students talking about doing historical research, meeting with Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow (whose book underpins the musical), and performing their own historically inspired music, rap, and poetry for the cast and crew of the show. It was moving.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806
John Turnbull's portrait of Alexander Hamilton (via Wikimedia Commons)
So, I spent the 4th of July listening to the album and totally get what the big deal is (my opinion, your mileage may vary). It was a fitting reminder of the heroic and yet complicated, messy, sometimes ugly, origins of our democracy and the importance of helping our visitors understand that life was not "simpler back then." And that we are all part of the continuum of history. "Hamilton," for all of its cultural phenomenon-ness, is also an object lesson: when history is presented as a compelling story, with an eye and ear to the intended audience, people respond. We can't create blockbuster musicals at our sites, but our staff and volunteers strive all the time to forge emotional and intellectual connections between the present and the past and to shed light on the human strengths and weaknesses we share with our collective ancestors. It's frustrating work sometimes (most of the time?), but it matters.

Last month, Conrad Weiser Homestead hosted a living history program, Forest Diplomacy, that explored the relationship between colonial Pennsylvania and the Iroquois nation at a time when things might have turned out very differently.

Eckley Miners' Village held their annual Patch Town Days event late last month, this year focused specifically on the anthracite region's Slavic heritage. Music, food, and living history brought the company town's above-ground history to life for a crowd of visitors. You can read more about it in an article (with photos) from the Hazleton Standard-Speaker, which highlights the Eckley Players' presentation about a scarlet fever outbreak. Below ground, the second year of archaeological exploration has been uncovering buried details of the lives of two families who lived on Eckley's back street.

Blogger The Crazy Tourist included the Railroad Museum and the State Museum on a list of the top 25 things to do in Pennsylvania! He may be crazy but he has good taste.

And while we're at it, the Railroad Museum is in the running for USA Today's contest to select the 10 best transportation museums in the country (as of 9:23 am on July 8, RMP is ranked 3rd out of 20 in the voting). You can vote once a day through July 22 18 at noon. Don't throw away your shot.


Post a Comment