As a monographs cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society, I work primarily with books and pamphlets, often ones printed in the United States during the nineteenth century. However, the twenty-five miles of shelves at AAS hold much more than books and pamphlets, and recently I ventured into collections that were entirely new to me and explored an array of AAS’s holdings that I hadn’t previously encountered.
The impetus for this journey was the smash Broadway hit Hamilton: An American Musical. I listened to the Hamilton Original Cast Recording in October, and, like so many others have, I immediately started re-listening and quoting it at the drop of a hat. One of the (many) things I love about the music is how it incorporates the words and text of history into its reimagining of the past—the song “One Last Time” quotes George Washington’s Farewell Address verbatim, and “The Farmer Refuted” draws from a pamphlet war between Alexander Hamilton and Samuel Seabury. I began to wonder what might be within the walls of AAS that could connect me to the stories of Alexander Hamilton; Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, his wife; and their friends, allies, and opponents.
Ambitiously, I decided to see if I could find something in AAS’s collections inspired by each of the forty-six songs in the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. It took a bit of creative thinking, a generous approach to “inspired by,” and several conversations with my colleagues who guided me through AAS’s collections, but, after several months, I succeeded! Along the way, I posted the results of my journey to Instagram, where I gathered all the posts under the hashtag #hamildays
and gave some context—perhaps, at times, too much, given Instagram’s post limits—about what I had posted.
Over the course of creating fifty posts, the #hamildays project took me through twenty-eight collections at AAS, many of them new terrain for me. I wasn’t aware of the Currency Collection until Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes pointed it out to me. However, it was a perfect match for lyrics from the song “Stay Alive,” and it was thrilling to handle something as quotidian and tangible as money. It was also unexpectedly educational to see the volume of
bills counterfeiting banknotes issued by the Continental Congress and to learn that a sixpence could be issued as paper currency.
I was familiar with, in a general way, AAS’s manuscript collections, but I don’t interact with them on a daily basis. It was exciting to discover that AAS holds some of Aaron Burr’s papers and to read through them, finding Burr’s marriage certificate and handling letters written by his daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston.
I’ve used digitized versions of AAS’s immense newspaper collection to search for information on authors and publishers, but physically handling them and turning through their pages while following the threads of the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet, in which Alexander Hamilton admitted to an adulterous affair, was a very different experience than targeting snippets of text on a screen. Turning through a newspaper page by page gave me a richer sense of eighteenth-century daily life by seeing the advertisements, reprinted articles, reports of household unrest, and political news that made up people’s everyday experience.
Although I work with the books and pamphlets held by AAS, I discovered new things in those collections as well. For the first time, I visited the Almanacs Collection, which was cataloged prior to my tenure at AAS, and I was startled, although ecstatic, to learn how political almanacs could be, and how they visually depicted maps of the “present seat of war” and generals such as George Washington and Horatio Gates.
These fifty posts, with images from twenty-eight different AAS collections, have now been gathered up and archived on the AAS website as #hamildays: A Hamilton-Inspired Journey Through the Stacks. The #hamildays archive follows the structure of Hamilton: An American Musical, and is divided into two acts with each song represented by an image (or, upon occasion, two). It also includes a bibliography of both the collection items represented and secondary sources consulted. I hope you enjoy exploring #hamildays as much as I enjoyed assembling it.
Pictures, from top to bottom:
The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. 2 vol. New York: J. and A. M’Lean, 1788. Bindings Collection copy.
Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton from: Griswold, Rufus W. The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. New York: D. Appleton, 1856. Plate faces p. 55.
Copper lustre pitcher with transfer-printed image of the Marquis de Lafayette. English-made Staffordshire pottery for the American market.
Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 24 June 1785. Abigail Adams Letters.
New York Evening Post. New York, N.Y. November 16, 1801.
Montrésor, John. A Plan of the City of New-York & Its Environs to Greenwich, on the North of Hudsons River, and to Crown Point, on the East or Sound River, Shewing the Several Streets, Publick Buildings, Docks, Fort & Battery, With the True Form & Course of the Commanding Grounds, With and Without the Town. Surveyed in the Winter, 1775. [London]: A. Dury, [1776?].
A Peep into the Antifederal Club. New York, 1793.