About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America’s Past"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
September 27, 2018

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives for tonight’s program—“Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s Past.” I’m glad to see so many of you here in the theater, and I want to extend a special welcome to those who are joining us through YouTube.

Before we hear from our panelists, I’d like to let you know about two other programs coming up next month.

On Thursday, October 11, at 7 p.m., in a program to celebrate NASA’s 60th anniversary, Rory Kennedy will introduce her new documentary film, Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow. The film presents the agency’s many accomplishments in space and the vital role NASA has played in measuring the health of our planet.

A week later, on Thursday, October 18, at 7 p.m., we’ll celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass with a panel discussion on “Frederick Douglass, 19th-Century Civil Rights Activist: His Legacy Today.” The panel will explore Douglass’s legacy as well as contemporary issues related to his causes.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website— archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

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When the musical Hamilton came to the Kennedy Center this summer, Washington, DC, caught the fever that had been sweeping through fans since the show opened in New York in 2015.

Here at the National Archives, we mounted a special display of Hamilton documents from our holdings as a tie-in to the show. Our curator paired lyrics with five original documents that inspired them—a Revolutionary War report to Lafayette, a plan of government, Washington’s nomination of Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton’s statement of property and debts, and a petition from Elizabeth Hamilton asking Congress to publish her husband’s papers.

Eliza’s foresight means that—two centuries later—we have direct access to Alexander Hamilton’s thoughts and ideas recorded in his own words. Founders Online, a website hosted by the National Archives and funded by our National Historical Publications and Records Commission, has transcriptions of thousands of documents written by and to the nation’s founders. The Hamilton papers alone amount to more than 15,000 documents.

Because these documents were preserved and published, Ron Chernow was able to draw on them for his biography Hamilton. And Lin-Manuel Miranda could let the authentic voice of Hamilton speak in his lyrics. When Chernow, Miranda, and director Thomas Kail received the National Archives Foundation’s Records of Achievement Award in 2016, all three emphasized how important it was to connect with Hamilton’s actual words.

The remarkable response to the musical has led to more visibility for Alexander Hamilton than ever before. Let’s bring out our panelists to start our discussion of the history behind the Broadway hit.

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Our moderator this evening is Nelson Pressley, theater critic for the Washington Post. Joining him are

Renee Romano, the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College;

Joseph Adelman, assistant professor of history, Framingham University;

Claire Bond Potter, professor of history and executive editor of Public Seminar at The New School in New York;

Brian Herrera, assistant professor of theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University; and

Mike O'Malley, professor of history at George Mason University.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our panelists.