Hamilton: From Caribbean Obscurity to Broadway Sensation

On the evening of February 9th, 2017, I attended an event sponsored primarily by the OU Humanities Forum featuring Dr. Andrew Porwancher, Professor Sean Churchman, and notable New York theater critic Peter Filichia discussing the meteoric rise of the popular musical Hamilton. As a Hamilton biographer, Dr. Porwancher was particularly fascinated by the musical, and was excited to lead the event. In addition to a panel discussion, the audience was also treated to a number of performances from OU’s own School of Musical Theater, which were breathtaking. The discussion, at least from Dr. Porwancher’s end, focused on his research regarding Hamilton’s likely Jewish origin. The question and answer portion from the audience was also particularly engaging. Most of their questions centered on the rise of musical adaptations of historical characters and stories… the panelists didn’t think anyone could top Hamilton. I certainly agree.

The panelists also discussed Hamilton’s immigrant roots, and it was this particular topic that I found the most intriguing. Hamilton was raised on the island of Nevis, and was passed around from family member to family member. His childhood is a case study in the British West Indies of the time; he was a white man that was well-educated (by virtue of his own talent) that ended up maintaining a ledger for a sugar trading company. After he was sent to America, the panel also discussed how his status as an immigrant in the early days of the republic influences his relationships with some of the other Founding Fathers. According to the panel, his immigrant identity caused great tension between Hamilton and other members of Washington’s cabinet. What I found particularly interesting about this is that it indicates that, even at the beginning of our nation, which was a time when we were supposedly embracing the “great American melting pot,” xenophobia was still prevalent. The problems we face today, it seems, are not new; clearly, the solutions we propose to them need to be.

GEF and ICDGWF

On March 9th of this year, the Informed Citizens Discussion Group convened for one of our favorite events of the year: ICDG with Food. For those unfamiliar with this organizations, ICDG is an organizations that holds about ten different small discussion groups every week where students of all different political backgrounds convene in order to share ideas and talk about current events. During ICDG with Food, we (the co-chairs, myself and my friend Alex) buy food for the group at large, and meet as an entire organization. This enables our members to get introduced to new worldviews and opinions outside of their group, which is the main point of the organization.

The main topics of discussion during this event where the international ramifications of Donald Trump’s assertion that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. Many members expressed concern that America’s allies would see this as just another example of the Trump campaign making illegitimate claims, and they also worried that foreign leaders would then be accused by Donald based on their relationship with him. On the other hand, several of our members asserted that Trump’s statements were true, and that it didn’t matter what foreign nations thought, because American policy should be endlessly concerned with its own nation, and not with foreign actors.

We also talked about the fall of the Chinese economy, and while that is certainly not my area of expertise, it was incredibly fascinating to listen to people that were far more intelligent than I on the subject matter talk about how they think that India is soon going to replace China as the primary Asian economic powerhouse. The people in the group mentioned that the aging population of China was leading to a significant decline in productivity, which, considering the one-child policy, I found to be particularly interesting. Would China economically be served by removing this policy, and if so, why haven’t they removed it? The responses the Economic students gave was really satisfactory, but lacking in a background knowledge, I couldn’t offer much more of a critique.

Finally, we talked about the similarities between European and American right-wing groups. Several of the members of the group were worried that European leaders of populist parties would use Trump as a template for how to win elections, and even more, including myself, were concerned that Angela Merkel is going to be voted out of office in the upcoming German elections. By the time that we reached that discussion topic, the pizza had run out, so we didn’t get much farther…. however, as always, it was fascinating to discover how different people with different expertise conceived of these issues that I knew little about.