The secret to engaging history students

“Oh, Alexander Hamilton, when America sings for you, will they know what you overcame? Will they know you rewrote the game? The world will never be the same”

About a year ago, my history teacher, Mr. Knapp introduced the class to a video of the creator of “Hamilton” and an actor in the show Lin Manuel-Miranda performing a rap about Alexander Hamilton at a White House event in 2007, including the lyrics above. Little did I know that this musical would not only become a huge part of my own personal life, but also my school life.

Throughout the year, Mr. Knapp would show videos, clips, and lyrics from the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton” to help us learn about American history and to become involved and interested in things that happened over 200 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a lover of history, but this did not only make my class time even more fun, but also got my peers who didn’t love history as much, interested in class.

Zayd Shihab, a former student of Knapp’s said, “It did help me understand that Hamilton was the person who had a more industrial vision for America while Jefferson had a more rural and agricultural view.” Nearly a year later, Shihab still knows this information.

All history teachers should use “Hamilton” to better engage their students. Why?

“Hamilton” features music from all sorts of genres, taking the audience through one of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton’s life from an orphan in the caribbean to becoming the first secretary of treasury for the United States.

The musical entails songs about the Revolutionary War and the upbringing of the country we know today. As mentioned in the article, “How Teachers Are Using ‘Hamilton’ the Musical in the Classroom” written by Linda Flanagan, songs like “Guns and Ships” or “Yorktown” help to understand battles in our history and those who led the battles. Others such as “Cabinet Battle #1” and “Cabinet Battle #2” help students understand opinions and discussions throughout history and the perspectives of those who had the discussions.

Some may say that “Hamilton” gets kids to memorize catchy hip hop lyrics, but they do not truly retain that information… that knowing a few song lyrics can’t teach you more than dozing off while reading from your history book.

However, retaining information comes from repeating and practicing. Having “Hamilton” on loop and allowing students to sing along will not only help them understand and know that information, but enable them to have fun while learning.

Flanagan also mentions in the article that “Hamilton” can do more in the classroom than just help teach basic history lessons, but it can also allow students (and teachers) to dig deeper on other topics involving history.

Questions like “What was the true cause of the infamous Burr-Hamilton duel that led to Alexander’s death?” or others such as “Who had the better idea of America, Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton?” Doing this can teach students to do more in history class than memorize dates and facts, but to truly understand and analyze the more important parts of the past.

Without a doubt, “Hamilton” should be used in every history class to interest students. If hip hop history lyrics can make a difference, it is more than necessary for teachers to utilize this modern resource and engage their students to learn about the past in a better and more efficient way.