Teaching with Tunes: An Educator’s Guide to utilizing Hamilton in the Classroom

Teaching with Tunes: An Educator’s Guide to Utilizing Hamilton in the Classroom

Juliana Kong and Heather Pollak, Drew University

The American musical Hamilton took not only the history community, but the entire world, by storm when it premiered on Broadway in 2015. One of the most popular, innovative, and significant musicals of all time, Lin Manuel Miranda’s work has been lauded lyrically and musically. His ability to modernize and popularize the history of the American Revolution and founding of our nation through the eyes of former Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, has earned him well-deserved praise and global recognition. Through contemporary music spanning multiple genres (primarily hip-hop and rap), Miranda has piqued domestic and global interest in this forgotten Founding Father, revolutionizing the way we think about early American history.

Hamilton spans from the pre-Revolutionary period all the way to Alexander Hamilton’s death in 1804, following his infamous duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton covers the Revolutionary War, the United States’ first two presidencies, the development of political parties, and, of course, the personal drama of Mr. Alexander Hamilton. Embedded in this groundbreaking hip-hop musical are infinite opportunities for educators to increase student engagement, practice with higher order thinking skills, and develop student analysis and inquiry abilities.

Secondary Level

Farmer Refuted- Conflicting Concerns regarding British Rule in pre-Revolutionary America

Teachers may use the Hamilton (2015) song “Farmer Refuted” to develop student understanding and comprehension of the conflicting perspectives and loyalties regarding the American Revolution and concept of going to war against the ruling British King.

Key Questions:

  1. In “Farmer Refuted”, who is supporting the British? What would this person be referred as?
  2. Why is this person supporting the British?
  3. Who is supporting the idea of the Revolution? What would this person be referred as?
  4. Why are these people supporting the idea of Revolution?
  5. What factors might affect people’s loyalties and why do those factors influence people’s beliefs?
  6. How is the Loyalist in “Farmer Refuted” portrayed? The Patriots?
  7. Why might have Lin Manuel Miranda decided to portray them this way?
  8. Is this a necessarily fair portrayal? Why or why not?

The Battle of Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)- Content Lesson

Teachers may use Hamilton (2015) song “The Battle of Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” to engage student interest in the historical content of the American Revolution and its conclusion.

Activity: With Personal Devices- Yorktown Research and Timeline

  1. Hand out a copy of “The Battle of Yorktown” lyrics to students (electronic or printed)
  2. Have the class watch The Tony Awards performance of “The Battle of Yorktown” and take note of lyrics they do NOT understand
  3. Have students independently research their noted lyrics
    1. Have student post their lyrics and summarized research on the class Padlet timeline
  4. Project class Padlet
  5. Have students rearrange their posts in (what they believe is) chronological order
  6. Summarize the Battle of Yorktown for student clarification


Activity: No personal devices- Lyric Scavenger Hunt

  1. Hand out a printed copy of “The Battle of Yorktown” lyrics to students
  2. Have the class watch The Tony Awards performance of The Battle of Yorktown and take note of lyrics they do NOT understand
  3. Give informational lecture on the Battle of Yorktown. Have students write down/take notes when students “find” their misunderstood/mystery lyrics
  4. At the end of the lecture, ask students if anyone found the answer to their misunderstood/ mystery lyric
  5. Take student volunteers’ answers
    1. (ex. “(Lafayette) I go back to France, I bring freedom to my people if given the chance” = Marquis de Lafayette returns to France after the American Revolution to bring the principles and ideals of the Revolution to monarchist France)
  6. Ask if anyone has an unanswered lyric and clarify any information students have questions on.


One Last Time- George Washington’s Farewell Address

Teacher can compare and compare and contrast George Washington’s original/abridged Farewell Address to the Hamilton (2015) song, “One Last Time” in order to highlight key concepts and themes that occur within the Address and early American politics.

Key Questions:

  1. What ideas occur in both the original Address and “One Last Time”?
  2. What does that double occurrence say about the personal importance of those ideas to
    George Washington? To us?
  3. What are three concepts in George Washington’s Farewell Address that DON’T appear in “One Last Time”?
  4. Why do you think these concepts don’t appear in “One Last Time”?
  5. Are George Washington’s concerns still relevant to today’s political concerns?


The World Was Wide Enough- Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s Duel

Teachers may use Hamilton (2015) song “The World Was Wide Enough” about the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (regarding the severe political disagreements and hostile relationship between the two) to introduce students to the historical literacy skill of sourcing and corroboration. Students can compare and contrast “The World Was Wide Enough” with primary source accounts of the legendary duel and determine the accuracy of Hamilton’s interpretation of the duel.

Key Questions:

  1. From whose perspective did Lin Manuel Miranda base
    Hamilton on?
  2. Whose perspective is “The World Was Wide Enough” from?
  3. Which person is “The World Was Wide Enough” more sympathetic towards?
  4. Does this perspective follow the general trend of the musical’s perspective? Why or why not?
  5. Looking at primary sources, who do you (students) think is the “villain” of the duel, Burr or Hamilton? Why?
  6. Why might Van Ness’s and Pendleton’s joint statement on the duel might be a more accurate account than Angelica Church’s?
  7. What is Van Ness’s and Pendleton’s relationship to Hamilton and Burr?
  8. What is Angelica Church’s?
  9. Why might those relationships affect the accuracy of each primary source’s version of the duel?
  10. Based on primary source perspectives, what do you (students) think really happened?


Cabinet Battle 1-Cabinet Debate on Economic Policy

Teachers may use the Hamilton (2015) song “Cabinet Battle 1” either in conjunction with “Cabinet battle 2” to identify the fundamental differences between Federalists and Republicans or to analyze Hamilton’s economic plan to establish a national bank.

Key Questions:

  1. What political party was Alexander Hamilton a part of?
  2. What political party was Thomas Jefferson a part of?
  3. What did Hamilton believe the role of government in economic affairs should be?
  4. What did Jefferson believe the role of government in economic affairs should be?
  5. How did their views differ?
  6. What lyrics from the song support Hamilton’s position?
  7. What lyrics from the song support Jefferson’s position?
  8. According to Jefferson, who does not benefit from Hamilton’s financial plan?
  9. What other major issue is referenced in debate?
  10. Why is this issue of importance?
  11. Whose position do you most agree with? Why (use evidence to support your answer)?



Cabinet Battle 2-Cabinet Debate on America’s involvement in international affairs?

Teachers may use the Hamilton (2015) song “Cabinet Battle 2” either in conjunction with “Cabinet battle 1” to identify the fundamental differences between Federalists and Republicans or to critique the cabinets position on whether or not to aid the French in their Revolution.

Key Questions:

  1. What issue/issues are Hamilton and Jefferson debating over?

     2. Summarize, in your own words, the main points of Hamilton’s argument.

  1. Summarize in your own words, the main points of Jefferson’s argument.
  2. Whose argument do you agree with? Why?
  3. Why did George Washington agree with Hamilton?

Predict: How would this decision affect the future of Washington’s administration?

  1. How might this decision impact the United States future relationship with France?



Washington On Your SideThomas Jefferson’s decision to resign as Secretary of State

Teachers may use the Hamilton (2015) song “Washington On Your Side” as an extension lesson following “Cabinet Battle 2,” Students can compare and contrast the lyrics and content of the song with primary source letters written by Jefferson leading up to his resignation.

Key Questions:

  1. Why did Jefferson, Burr, and Madison dislike Hamilton?
  2. Why did Jefferson want to resign from Washington’s cabinet.
  3. How did the song and the primary source differ?
  4. What ideas occur in both the original Jefferson’s letters to Washington and the song “Washington On Your Side”?
  5. How do you predict Hamilton and Washington will take the news of Jefferson’s resignation?


https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-washington-on-your-side-lyrics (Teacher will have to edit lyrics before distribution)

Non-Stop-The Federalist Papers

Teachers may use the Hamilton (2015) song “Non-Stop” to examine Hamilton’s role at the Constitutional Convention and the battle for ratification that followed.

Key Questions:

  1. Why was Aaron Burr so adamant about not writing Federalist Papers?
  2. What evidence (lyrics) support your (student) answer?
  3. Why did Hamilton feel it was necessary to ratify the constitution?
  4. What was the purpose of the Federalist Papers?
  5. What did Hamilton and the other founding fathers write in the 85 essays of the Federalists Papers?
  6. What arguments did they make in favor of the Constitution?
  7. What was the response from anti-Federalists?
  8. What other concerns did Hamilton express at the beginning of the song?
  9. Predict: How do you think the nation would have been affected if Hamilton did not write the Federalists Papers? Why?



The Room Where It Happens-The Compromise of 1790

Teachers may use Hamilton (2015) song “The Room Where it Happens” to analyze the Compromise of 1790 which agreed to place the U.S. capital on the Potomac and America’s financial center to remain in New York by comparing primary sources to Manuel’s version of what happened.

Key Questions:

  1. What historical event is this song about?
  2. What evidence (lyrics) supports that?
  3. What was at stake in this compromise?
  4. Why is this of historical importance?
  5. What was the outcome of the Compromise?
  6. Whose version of the story seems more reliable, Jefferson or Hamilton? Why?
  7. Whose perspective is “The Room Where It Happens” from?
  8. Is this perspective an accurate account of what happened? Why?
  9. How does Jefferson’s account of the event differ or agree with Manuel?
  10. Is his account trustworthy? Why or why not?
  11. Why does Manuel mean by no one



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