What, when & where
Hamilton and the Poetics of America
Special issue of the European Journal of American Studies
For those following the course of its reception since its premiere in 2015, there is little doubt that Hamilton: An American Musical is not just theatre. Rather, it is a cultural phenomenon embedded in America’s efforts to make sense of a national selfhood in crisis and an increasingly beleaguered image. The way Hamilton has reflected, fed into and off these efforts does not have to do only with the musical as “self-contained” work of art. Perhaps most importantly, it correlates with how the work has been negotiated in the realm of popular culture and beyond. Hence the main premise of this issue of the European Journal of American Studies: how Hamilton has been talked and written about, the remarkable range of response it has attracted within America, and throughout America’s geocultural ambit, signposts processes of fathoming America’s shifting poetics; that is, the intricate ensemble of meaning-making tools and concepts by which the functioning of contemporary American culture can be accessed and assessed.
There is a special place reserved in the theatre for people whose life, though grounded in verifiable fact, have slid into the realm of myth. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is one such case. And Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creative genius behind the musical, approached him precisely as a liminal mythic figure, and thus as a cultural text of distributed authorship. Hamilton the work can be construed as an instantiation of Hamilton the myth, a thread woven in the mythic matrix of America’s beginnings. As an instance of reception that has itself been generatively received to the point of becoming a cultural phenomenon, Hamilton arguably betrays more about the context from which it sprang than about the primary mythical material itself. Although it gestures back to the past, it also resonantly speaks to its (our) own present.
The origins of the musical are well-documented both in the published material accompanying its release and in Miranda’s interviews. In 2008, while on holidays, Miranda read Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton. Soon after, he conceived of Hamilton’s life story as a hip-hop concept album that adapted the biographical material to retell the foundational myth of the American nation through the rise and fall of its first treasury secretary. In 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical, the descendant of that earlier album, opened on Broadway, setting new records for ticket sales and prices. The popularity of the musical started to peak following the 2016 Tony Awards when it won 11 of its 16 nominations, yet it was the release of the cast album that really cemented Hamilton’s place in popular culture. The album, which included the majority of the staged performance, allowed audiences other than the theatre-going elite to access the production. Importantly, it also allowed for a previously American cultural phenomenon to become viral around the world. Indeed, international audiences proved eager to consume anything directly attached to the show. Within and without the U.S., the public’s imagination was wooed by the narrative of the flawed but charming central character trying to survive and succeed through sheer will and determination. Popular culture enthusiastically embraced the lyrics, tunes, personae, and new spins on the central themes of heroism and anti-heroism, marking the musical as a seminal cultural work for the new millennium.
Hamilton’s reverberations have rippled throughout popular culture, as the musical turned into cultural capital for celebrities, who heartily endorsed the show and participated in the #Ham4All challenge, singing their favorite parts to raise money for the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition. Other creative offshoots followed both in the realm of professional artistry and of fandom, in fan-driven online spaces where action and participation varied, including interpretations that deviated from the main narrative, artistic activities, even illegal distribution of bootlegs. Yet, the politics of Hamilton‘s reception are not limited to the queer fan readings it attracted but extend to the musical’s political positioning given Miranda’s public support of the Democratic party and his open criticism of Donald Trump’s first nomination. Not only was the cast recruited for the 2016 pro-vote campaign, but it also responded to the visit of Vice President-elect Mike Pence by directly addressing him at curtain call and urging him to consider their message of diversity and inclusion. The “BoycottHamilton” Twitter trend that Trump supporters initiated immediately afterwards proved that, in the polarized climate of the 2016 election, it was impossible for a cultural product of such sweep to remain neutral. Hamilton’s political impact extended to Joe Biden’s recent inauguration, as the poet laureate Amanda Gorman incorporated Hamilton lyrics in her recital. Evidently, there is a connecting line to be drawn between the political disputes over federal powers dramatized in the musical, Miranda’s message of political optimism, and the polarizing actions that shaped and came to define the political period 2016–2021.
Today, the Hamilton phenomenon is not limited to the constellation of creative products and processes, official or fan-made, bearing its “trademark,” nor to the dynamics of audience reception that have been woven in and around the said products. Artists and scholars, as well as professionals and practitioners from various realms of culture, knowledge, and praxis have been gravitating in increasing numbers toward the field of forces that is Hamilton, thus further amplifying the phenomenon. The critical discourse that is centered and expands on the many strands of history, agency, representation, and access constituting Hamilton as a cultural text—but also on its implications for the very political and social ecologies that inform it—is rapidly multiplying and diversifying. However, despite the array of productive effort at gauging what Hamilton reveals about America to itself and the world, as well as how and why it does so, this discourse remains dispersed and fragmented in reports, social media posts and threads around the world wide web.
This issue is an attempt at developing a systematic, structured, and inclusive platform to accommodate the said discourse in all its interdisciplinary complexity. We invite researchers, scholars, and artists from within and without the arts and humanities to tease out the historical connections on which Hamilton rests; put forward intersectional readings of the many identities and categories of difference compiled in it; reflect on its import in terms of aesthetics, ethics, and/or politics; interrogate it as a site where rehearsals of social and cultural change involving America but also the rest of the world are currently performed. Possible topics on which to expound include:
Hamilton revised – Hamilton contested: reception as a source of controversy and the generativity of reception (Hamilton as/is Hamilton as/is Hamilton…)
Hamilton as “branching-out” cultural text: interrelated yet partially self-directed manifestations of the Hamilton phenomenon
Hamilton and media/participatory culture; fan action and/or fan engagement
Viral Hamilton – viral America; the distributed authorship of both
Hamilton and outreach: #HAM4HAM lottery, subsidized school tickets, pre- and post-show events; cross-promotional strategies; distribution and communication patterns; philanthropy as legacy
Trans/Formations of the American Dream in the American Musical
Hamilton’s place in the musical genre cycle: from Broadway to Hollywood
Hamilton and cultural hegemony; Broadway challenged (or not?); questions of access: availability, pricing and the theatre-going elite
Hamilton and celebrity culture; backlash and cancel culture
De/Constructing Miranda’s public image in the U.S. and abroad
Hamilton and the political: Hamilton vs. Trump and the contexts of the 2016 and 2020 elections
Hamilton’s politics: masculinities and femininities; queer casting vs. baiting; ethnoracial diversity vs. color baiting; casting choices and production ethics
Hamilton, historicity, intersecting histories; the immigrant’s arrest of history
The aesthetics and/or controversies of Hamilton’s adaptation; Disney + and questions of censorship
Hamilton’s afterlife: The Hamilton MixTape and musical adaptations; domestic and international tours; transmedia storytelling; transgenerational appeal; documentaries and other treatments.
Deadline & how to apply
Please submit your article proposal, including author contact information, title, a 300-word abstract, 4-5 keywords, and a short bio by 31 July 2021 to: Dr. Melenia Arouh (email@example.com) and Dr. Aikaterini Delikonstantinidou (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other info, Links & conditions
Decisions on article proposals will be communicated to authors in September 2021. The European Journal of American Studies follows a double blind review process for all papers.