Inspired by the hit Broadway musical Hamilton I decided to incorporate historical actors into every time period covered in my Advanced Placement United States course. After reading NY Times critic Ben Brantley’s August 6, 2015 review of ‘Hamilton.’ I was drawn to one particular paragraph that captured the essence of the American story: “Mr. Miranda’s Hamilton, a propulsive mix of hubris and insecurity, may be the center of the show. But he is not its star. That would be history itself, that collision of time and character that molds the fates of nations and their inhabitants.”
As social studies professionals we are in the business of telling stories. History is drama. It’s full of character and conflict. Who is protagonist? Who has the starring role? What, when, and where does the plot turn? Does it have a happy or tragic ending? These are the problems historians deal with when they tell the story of America. Effective educators tirelessly weave endless narratives about America’s past into lesson plans designed to share what this collision of time and character ultimately created.
While the chronological framework of any US History course is pre-determined, stressing the importance of uncovering the life stories of individuals or groups creates the possibility of a broader understanding of the American story. As historians we should
emphasize that history is made by many nameless and faceless people—slaves, factory workers, farmers, suffragists, and others— are agents of historical change.
American Biographies companion website