historical-new-york

*What was your initial reaction to the play?*


My initial thought was that the play is entertaining and contains quite a bit of history. There is a Cabinet meeting rap battle in the play; Washington’s Farewell Address is sung in the play. I saw the play with a friend who is a historian and our jaws were on the floor. And in its form and style, the play is so different. It’s clearly revolutionary theater. Then I heard the song titled “10 Duel Commandments.” As it went on, I heard words from a document that I had discovered at the New-York Historical Society in the bottom of a box, and I realized the song was based on that document — and more broadly, on the chapter of my book about the Burr-Hamilton duel. I loved that I had something to do with the play!


The document was a set of notes from the trial of Aaron Burr’s second in the duel, William Van Ness, who took notes on what testifying witnesses were saying. Amazingly, I had discovered new eyewitness accounts of the Burr-Hamilton duel. And its details were fascinating. The two boatmen who rowed Hamilton and Burr to the location of the duel, and the doctor who was present, all testified that they had stood with their backs to the dueling ground, so during the trial, when asked what they had seen, they could honestly say that they heard gunshots but saw no duel. The document reveals lots of customs of this sort — customs that gave people taking part in a duel a kind of deniability. You can see this play out in the courtroom. It was mind-blowing to hear these details in a song.


*How accurate is the Broadway play’s depiction of Alexander Hamilton?*


It’s almost comical: now that everyone is excited about Hamilton, it is not the real Hamilton that they’re excited about. I can detail a lot of things that are not discussed or included in the play, or that are outright wrong with it, but it is important to remember that this is a hip-hop musical. The play captures aspects of Hamilton’s personality, but ultimately it is a play about one person’s rise and fall. I would not want my students to think it’s an authentic version of history. But my students — who are very excited about the play — are more sophisticated than that. They come to class and ask, ‘what really happened?’ This play has become a teaching avenue, a door opener. So, if there are more students in my history classes because of it, then that’s a bonus. And if the play gets kids thinking that early American history is interesting and relevant to the present day, and moves them to study it, then that’s great too.


*Why did you remain interested in Alexander Hamilton for so many years?*


I’ve stayed interested in Hamilton not because he was a standard-issue hero, but because of his complications; he was self-destructive, had a highly problematic personality, and was often extreme in his politics. I don’t like hero history. It does the study of history a disservice on a thousand different levels. It’s far more interesting to study complicated people and the history they helped to shape.

How to Brooklyn pt 5, or

If not a dock worker or a paperboy, then what?  Steve and Bucky’s jobs before World War II

Anonymous says: Okay, I have a Q based on your (WONDERFUL) How to Brooklyn posts. What kinda job would Bucky have had, say, in 1940, before the war started?

Why thank you for asking!  (Thank you also for reading!)  I love this question, not least because I spent my first few months in Cap fandom in baffled rage about the whole docks trope and why it was a thing.  

Okay, so before we go over what kind of jobs Bucky and Steve might’ve had before the war started, we should talk a little about their relative economic circumstances.  Canon is slightly conflicting on this point if you include the tie in comics, which I generally don’t because for some unfathomable reason it has Steve and Bucky meeting in Hell’s Kitchen, which is the wrong fucking borough, and going to art school in Times Square, which, I don’t even know what to fucking do with that.

So what does canon tell us?  

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How to Brooklyn (Guide for Cap Writers) pt 2, or

For the lov’a Pete, Include the Subway In Your Stories

Okay, so real talk.  One of the biggest signs that, for me, an author has actually lived in or been to New York or properly done their research is whether or not they include the subway in their story.  A story set in New York City that doesn’t even reference the subway might as well be set in middle America.  I’m not saying you have to shoehorn it in if your fic is, idk, a PWP where they never leave Steve’s apartment, but seriously, you can’t underestimate how much the subway impacts our lives here.

Plus, narratively, it’s a great cheat: there are few things more iconic than the New York subway system.  We’re intimately familiar with the feel of the subway from popular culture; it instantly sets your scene as being in New York; and you’ve got a great vehicle (pun intended) to literally and metaphorically move your scene and characters forward.

I won’t be coy here: the New York subway system is gross.  It smells weird all the time.  We started building tunnels in 1900 (experimental elevated lines first arrived in Manhattan in the 1860s and were expanded to Brooklyn in the 1880s.  They were pulled by tiny steam engines!  How adorable, except that elevated lines were purposefully built because so many people were killed by street trolleys back in the day)

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Shots of Old New York

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Reader Chris send these in. From the Selvedge Yard:

Incredible shots of the poverty in the Lower East Side in the late 19th Century:

Bandit’s Roost, NYC and to think I saw it on Mulberry Street

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And a much more recent New York as shot by Daniel Weiss:


Spoken Leica Native New Yorker: The Photography of Daniel Weiss

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