Historians are not necessarily known as a creative bunch, but good history requires plenty of creativity. Historical researchers must often become quite ingenious when seeking out documents in archives or through online databases. History teachers or museum curators must always be clever when designing effective presentations. The best historical scholars are invariably the most inventive in crafting their interpretations. But most important, anyone who wants to engage a general audience must create a historical impression that matters –that brings the past to life. That is an inherently creative process.
Nothing better illustrates this point than when artists who put their talents to the work on behalf of history. Lately, there’s been a spate of such examples from musical theatre. The best known is “Hamilton,” now a major Broadway musical from Tony and Grammy-award winning musician Lin-Manuel Miranda. After reading Ron Chernow’s celebrated biography of Alexander Hamilton, Miranda actually began crafting a historically inspired rap musical about Hamilton’s improbable rise to power. Miranda first presented one song from this musical vision at the White House in 2009:
Although this slickly produced 2010 musical parody from Soomo Publishing lacks the artistry and depth of Miranda’s creative reinvention, it is nonetheless a pretty funny video send up of Hamilton’s great rival, Thomas Jefferson, as he crafted the Declaration of Independence (to the tune of One Republic’s “Apologize”):
The truth is that you don’t have to be a professional musician to create a memorable –and teachable– musical parody. Here is Tim Betts, a teacher from Brooklyn, New York, who has put together a pretty amazing series of musical parody videos from across American history that are all available freely over YouTube. Here is his version of the Bill of Rights –to the tune of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers: