Footnote: what to read if you love Hamilton

The American musical is being added to Disney+; here's what to read after watching the show.

Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. Image: Disney+
Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. Image: Disney+

"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore / And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot / In the Caribbean by providence impoverished / In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"

From 3 July, anyone with a Disney+ subscription will be able to find out the answer to the above question, as a filmed version of the Broadway hit Hamilton: An American Musical is added to the streaming platform.

The show, created by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lin Manuel Miranda, tells the story of the Founding Fathers of America through the life of Alexander Hamilton, who became the first secretary of the US Treasury.

The show has drawn praise for combining hip hop, rap and other genres with traditional musical theatre, bringing new audiences in to spaces they wouldn't normally frequent. And it's also introduced people across the world to a crucial period of American history: the war for independence and the founding of the US.

The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton: An American Musical. Image: Disney+
The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton. Image: Disney+

If you're keen to learn more about American history after watching the show, then start with Nick Bunker's An Empire on the Edge, a look at the three years that preceded the outbreak of America’s war for independence in 1775. The book looks at the rise of the Boston Tea Party and how that led to a descent into war. It won the 2015 George Washington Prize.

Speaking of George Washington… the US' first president is a key part of the musical, and the subject of a biography by Ron Chernow, whose book on Hamilton inspired Miranda. Chernow's Washington: A Life is a richly nuanced portrait of the father of America.

In the musical – and the recording that will run on Disney+ – Washington and other historical figures are played by people of colour, something that Hamilton has been praised for. But there has also been criticism that, although it does mention slavery in its lyrics ("We'll never be free until we end slavery!"), the musical doesn't include real-life Black figures and also erases the involvement some of its characters had in slavery.

The cast of Hamilton. Image: Disney+
In Hamilton, many historical figures are played by Black and brown actors. Image: Disney+

If you want to learn more about the how racist ideas were built into the founding of America, read Ibram X. Kendo’s Stamped from the Beginning. Through the lives of five people – Puritan minister Cotton Mather, President Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, and anti-prison activist Angela Davis - Kendi chronicles the journey of racist ideas from 15th Century Europe to present-day America.


Watch the first public performance of the music from Hamilton: Lin Manuel Miranda performing at the White House for then President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

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