When History Gets Personal

13 Jul

Like so many others, I’ve been swept up in “Hamilton“-fever. I’ve listened to the musical’s soundtrack on repeat, I’ve watched video after video of its cast, I’ve fawned over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s thought-provoking Tweets and speeches. I could sing much of the soundtrack for you at this point – though I guarantee you don’t want to hear me sing. I’ve read the show’s plot synopsis too, trying to envision what action accompanies the show’s masterful lyrics. But the other day, as I queued up the soundtrack yet again, I started wondering about the characters’ real-life stories, beyond the musical numbers and creative license of a Broadway show.

I started by Googling the Schuyler sisters, who comprise the female protagonists in “Hamilton the Musical” (and also sing one of my favorite songs from the show). Eliza Schuyler became Hamilton’s wife, so I figured I’d start there. Googling inevitably took me to Wikipedia, where I pored over Eliza’s biography. The story of how Eliza met Alexander caught my eye – but not for the reasons you might expect. It wasn’t the details of their courtship, or hard-won approval that I found interesting. Instead, it was where they met: Morristown, New Jersey.

Eliza Marriage.pngYou see, I spent time in Morristown too. I stayed there for a few months in 2010 to do a consulting project a couple towns over. In my personal history, Morristown is another marker on my “memory map”: a place I have summarized to represent a particular moment in time. When I think about Morristown, I remember the friend I made on that project, our attempts to get (good) pizza delivered to the client site, my first ever Tres Leches cake from a nearby restaurant. I think about the assignment I was on and what I gleaned from it. I never got to explore Morristown beyond my day-to-day life, so my associations with the town are purely personal, and relate to my own experiences.

But isn’t it sort of mind-boggling to think about all the things that happen at any given spot? 230 years prior to my discovery of Morristown’s best Tres Leches cake, Eliza Hamilton discovered her future husband in that very same town. Long before I made a new friend on my work assignment, Eliza befriended Martha Washington just a flew blocks over. Like Alexander, I was sent to Morristown for work. But my client’s technology didn’t even exist during Alexander’s lifetime!

I’ve always been fascinated by the way personal memory, collective memory and “history” overlap. It boggles my mind to think about all the things that have happened at a particular site. Not just the monumental moments, but the things that make up “normal” people’s personal histories.  Reading about Morristown reminded me of the many layers that make up every physical location we see. For every “history marker,” there are plenty more things that happened in that place, that mattered to someone, who maybe just wasn’t famous.

Think of all the mysteries that lie beneath the surface everywhere we step. What else happened there before now? Who else crossed that point? Who do we “share” that spot with? And in 200 years, will it be an important place for someone else’s story?

 

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6 Responses to “When History Gets Personal”

  1. Robert Kirkendall July 13, 2016 at 12:05 PM #

    I always think about history and what my surrounding environment looked like at different times in the past. 200 years ago where I live was under Spanish domain.

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    • Felicia Baskin July 13, 2016 at 12:15 PM #

      Isn’t it fascinating? I think about that a lot as I travel around the U.S., too. Of course I know the general story of U.S. history, but my personal experience of “old America” is pretty different having grown up on the West Coast rather than somewhere like New Jersey or Virginia. We learned all the usual history but since you don’t sense it around you, it never felt as “real” to me as the Missions and the Spanish influence. Whenever I travel to places with U.S. colonial history, it feels a little thrilling to think about our country’s earliest moments!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Kirkendall July 13, 2016 at 12:30 PM #

        Exactly! I grew up in San Jose, and city limits signs said ‘Founded 1777’. I used to wonder about how my hometown was only a year younger than the USA, but was not a part of the USA at that time, and wouldn’t be until 1850. You grow up learning a dual history in California, which still fascinates me.

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      • Felicia Baskin July 17, 2016 at 5:02 PM #

        In SF, a lot of people don’t realize where the Mission neighborhood got its name and it’s always sort of funny to explain it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Kirkendall July 18, 2016 at 8:30 AM #

        I just hope The Mission remains La Misión ☺

        Liked by 1 person

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  1. Off the Road | Culture Cookies - December 11, 2016

    […] early breakfasts with NYC pals, crammed in to accommodate my work commitments. The months I spent staffed in New Jersey, barely seeing anything beyond my hotel and client […]

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