Collaborative projects were a requirement of all first year seminar courses, and at the recommendation of my students, they self-assembled into groups around different ideas. There is a longstanding Hamilton tradition of interacting with the material of the musical through fan art, fan fiction, the EduHam program for high school students, and even that Hamilton Mixtape involves extra songs and different takes on existing material. The students were limited only by their own creativity.
In the first project, four students each did a painting depicting a relationship between Hamilton and one of the other primary characters: Angelica, Eliza, Washington, and Burr. Each painting started with a silhouette of the characters, and then each artist added words, color, or details to illustrate the relationship. With Eliza, the background is the green-blue of her costume palette embellished with symbols of Eliza’s wealth and Hamilton’s motivation. This one painting was done in the gentle medium of water color, and it is the only silhouette in which the characters stand together. Angelica’s relationship is illustrated by the red of passion, the white of the spark between them, and the black of regret that they will never be together. Red, white and blue appropriately illustrate the Washington-Hamilton relationship, specifically white representing innocence, red representing valor, and blue signifying vigilance, perseverance, and justice. Lastly, the duel between Burr and Hamilton is the culmination of years of fighting and is painted in the red of violence and a little bit of red’s polar opposite green to represent their antagonism to each other. The chaotic background represents the constant eruptions in their messy relationship.
(I had to tell the class about the blog to get permission to share photos of their paintings, thus prompting my previous post.)
In the second project, six students collaborated on a set of “missing” letters revolving around Hamilton’s illicit affair with Maria Reynolds. Each student created documents for a different interaction: Maria confiding her growing infatuation with Hamilton to her journal, James Reynolds manipulating his wife to seduce the Secretary of the Treasury, a heartbroken Eliza exchanging letters with her sister, a particularly delightfully vicious exchange between Angelica and Maria, the scorned Maria adeptly pushing Alexander’s buttons in a vain attempt to entice him back to her, and Eliza writing to Maria reflecting on her marriage and finally preparing to go on with her life after the revelation of the affair. The students did a magnificent job of researching extra details about their characters, and the letters were created to have a definite chronological order. As a nice touch, most of the hard copies of the letters were printed using various cursive fonts to give the impression of genuine letters.
The Reynolds affair obviously struck a strong chord with the class since an additional project related to it as well. A scene between Eliza and Angelica occurs in which Eliza is reading the nearly illiterate letters written to her husband by Maria Reynolds. In the stack of papers, Eliza finds a letter that stands out because of the beautiful writing, and it is from Angelica to Alexander. Music starts, courtesy of a friendly music production major, and the two sisters sing the rest of the exchange. In the presentation, the lyrics flashed up on the screen while the music played. In a hilarious twist for me, after the presentation, one of the students decided to “be Dr. Pence” and she led her classmates through an analysis of the lyrics. I must say she did me quite well. The class pointed out that in the song, Angelica keeps trying to connect with Eliza by singing her sister’s themes whereas Eliza is so angry that she raps, which she does not do in the actual musical. Eliza demonstrates that she’s not stupid, and she’s a force to be reckoned with. Go Eliza.
The final project was a collaboration between two students who were both born outside the United States and came to the country as immigrants. They described their own experiences of arriving in a new place and struggling to learn the language and the culture to provide insight into what Hamilton himself might have experienced as a young adult arriving in New York City. One of the students lived with his grandmother for seven years before arriving in America and had the benefit of joining parents who had already made the transition in contrast to Hamilton who did not have the same built in family support system.
The students all seemed to thoroughly enjoy each other’s work, and I was quite impressed by their creativity and how well everything linked back to the musical.
As a side note, one student commented that for another class she had to write a paper about a leader, and she wrote about Alexander Hamilton. I asked if she even had to do any research, and she said no, but it crushed her to have to leave out so many details.