History as a subject is constantly branded with the "boring" label. This notion is problematic for not just teachers and education institutions, but for society at large. Truth is, history is full of captivating stories. Often, the retelling of these stories falls flat. However, recent groundbreaking phenomena in musical theater, fictional writing and cable television have distinct flair and are making history intriguing to learn.
The Hamilton effect
Hamilton is the talk of Broadway town and America. The 11-time Tony-winning musical is a smash, shattering box office records — but more significantly, it is dramatically altering presentation of American history — for the better. Hamilton is a reinterpretation of events centered on Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation's Founding Fathers.
The musical was conceived by playwright, actor, composer and history buff Lin-Manuel Miranda. After gaining an appreciation of Hamilton as a man, Miranda got inspired to compose rap lyrics based on Hamilton's upbringing and various life trials, including lines about his infamous duel with Aaron Burr. This clever device of rap language to relay history gives much color to Hamilton — and effectively to history itself.
Hamilton reintroduces its namesake, transforming him from a static name to learn in a textbook to a vivid human being. Hamilton is portrayed as a conflicted personality with raw emotions. Other Founding Fathers, including George Washington, are also are re-revealed in the musical.
The popularity of Hamilton is reconnecting people to history, driving massive Google searches of "Alexander Hamilton" and causing history instructors at grade schools and colleges to implement aspects of the musical into curriculum.
The Killing factor
During the same period in which Hamilton was developing into a musical, a history-based book was forming about Abraham Lincoln. The book would later become a 2011 best seller, Killing Lincoln, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. This and subsequent Killing books have been changing the perception of reading history, from a dull to an intriguing page turning experience.
O'Reilly, journalist/commentator and former high school teacher, reintroduces history as an exciting narrative. All of the Killing books read like a novel instead of dry rehashing of notable names, facts and chronological timelines. O'Reilly's writing combined with meticulous research from historian Dugard has produced masterful storytelling of historical figures revealed as good but flawed human beings. With each release, a famous figure from the past seemingly jumps out of the pages. Besides Lincoln, presidents Kennedy and Reagan, General Patton and Jesus get the Killing Treatment.
Readers have been enamored of the historical time travel series. In the first five years of the Killing series, there have been over 7 million books sold.
The Histo-drama component
The Killing book series birthed TV movie adaptations and the series Legends and Lies. These, along with other history-based dramas found on cable, have drawn high and consistent viewership. Naturally, History (traditionally known as The History Channel), is the primary source to catch programming with a focus on the past. From its program line-up are major dramas, including a pivotal historical American mini-series:
Hatfields and McCoys (2012) captured the legendary Civil War era feud between two rural families of the South. With intense, brutal violence, the chronicle successfully brought the Civil War to life to riveted viewers who were taken back in time. The three-part series was a rating killer, with a record 14 million viewers per part. Also, it garnered a slew of award recognitions — including 16 Emmy nominations.