Referencing Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton exhibit journeys to Washington-Centerville Public Library

By Brennan Burks

Photo: Lin-Manuel Miranda (front) as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton, the Broadway hit igniting popular interest in the Founding Father’s history

Most of us can probably count on one hand the number of things we know about the life of Alexander Hamilton. First, from middle school history class, we know that he met his untimely end in a duel with Aaron Burr, back when people still dueled to mediate their grievances. Second, we have some vague awareness that he is considered a “founding father” to our country, who had something to do with money, banks, and the National Treasury. And, third, that he is the subject of arguably one of the hottest musicals to hit Broadway in the last decade: Hamilton.

But did you know that he was born in the West Indies? That he immigrated to the American Colonies at the age of 14? That he was a clerk to George Washington during the Revolutionary War? That he, along with future President James Madison, authored a series of essays, The Federalist Papers, which laid the groundwork for debate and the eventual ratification of the Constitution? Or that he was perhaps the seminal figure in the creation of the financial structure we know today? If not, you still have time to learn. A renowned traveling exhibit exploring these and other corners of Hamilton’s life will make its home at the Washington-Centerville Public Library and live there through all of December.

Making its debut in January 2006, the exhibit was created in part to address this lack of public knowledge about the life of a significant figure in American history. “He really was a visionary,” says Susan Saidenberg, who curated the exhibit at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York. “There is so much life in his story, and so much value in knowing more of it.” Saidenberg also believes the life behind the man on the $10 bill has and will continue to resonate with so many Americans: “There is something quintessentially American about Hamilton’s story that we just had to help tell it. He was an immigrant who pursued the American dream before there was an America,” Saidenberg remarks.

To tell this story, the exhibit brings visitors into Hamilton’s life through letters, paintings, and drawings of family, friends, and contemporaries, and a detailed timeline of his life at the birth of the nation. Saidenberg says that while the larger narrative of people, places, and events depicted in the exhibit help viewers re-examine and better understand Hamilton’s role in our history, it is his letters that offer a window into the trials, tribulations, hopes, and dreams of this visionary man. “His letters are so revealing into who he really was, what he really wanted, and how he really saw the world at a crucial point in history,” she says. “From his early letters where he writes ‘my ambitions are boundless’ to those composed during the war where he expresses that America’s financially dire straits proved that our ‘want of money makes us want everything else’ give us such perspective of the times and of an instrumental man in them,” Saidenberg shares.

The Washington-Centerville Public library is looking forward to opening their doors to this traveling treasure of history. “It’s going to provide our patrons and new visitors with a deeply engaging, all-around experience,” says Georgia Mergler, community relations manager for the library. “Many people still think of a library as only a place for books,” Mergler acknowledges, “but we think holistically about our mission to education, enlighten, and entertain, and this exhibit is a perfect example of that.” Along with the historical documents that comprise the exhibit, the various institutions where it lives often coordinate events to complement the rich documents and displays. “These events serve to engage as many different audiences as possible, to get them excited about the exhibit and about opportunities at the library…” Mergler says. But Mergler admits that the library has some help in exciting people to learn about this particular exhibit: “It seems like people can’t get enough of Hamilton, the musical, and so, we’re excited to tie in all this exhibit has to offer with our own connection to this pop cultural phenomenon.” In that spirit, the library’s special events will strike a balance between the historically rich and the culturally popular.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 29 and 30, at 7 p.m., Wright State University Professor Paul D. Lockhart will give a presentation tilted “Who Was Hamilton?” On Dec. 6 and 7, also at 7 p.m., Vice President of Education and Engagement of the Victoria Theatre Association Gary Minyard will give a presentation titled “Hamilton on Broadway.”

Saidenberg, too, knows that the increased interest in the exhibit can be largely attributed to the success of the musical, and she says she’s thrilled that more and more people are taking an interest in his life “because his life, like ours, is full of complexity, and the story of his will to achieve and his will to make our country truly better is encouraging.” She also says that after she first saw the musical, she was reminded how important it is to share Hamilton’s full life with the public: “There’s a theme in the show that kept coming back to me about the role each of us plays in shaping our bigger conservations—who lives, who dies, and who tells the story to help us remember and move forward. And I like to think that telling the story in a more complete way is exactly what we’re doing here.”

The Alexander Hamilton Exhibit runs from Tuesday, Nov. 29 to Saturday, Dec. 31 at the Centerville branch of the Washington-Centerville Public Library, 111 W. Spring Valley Rd. in Centerville. The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular library hours. For more information, please visit 


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