For the Love of Hamilton
For communication studies Professor Terri Russ, teaching is not just a job, it’s a passion. She works hard to make her classes informative, relevant, and thought provoking. While preparing for an Introduction to Rhetoric course, Terri was faced with a challenge: How does one teach rhetoric – the somewhat difficult and nearly forgotten art of persuasion? She thought teaching students through current popular culture would make the study of rhetoric more exciting.
Like much of the country, Terri loves the musical Hamilton. As an academic, she began to think about how she could incorporate the music and lessons from the musical into a class. Terri’s Introduction to Rhetoric course seemed like the natural fit.
“I knew it would be something that would appeal to students, even students who weren’t necessarily familiar with Hamilton,” Terri said. “It is part of history, and while Hamilton the Musical is not always true to fact, we know that is has strong foundations rooted in historical facts.”
She went on to explain that while any musical could help teach a course on rhetoric, Hamilton was the obvious choice due to its huge popularity.
While Terri will be the first to admit she has developed a love for all things Hamilton, she knew this might not have been the case for students enrolled in the course.
“It is interesting because I have a whole range of students in the class. Some students had no knowledge whatsoever about the musical, but then there were students who have been constantly engaging with the musical, like me.”
This class has not only been a learning experience for students, but also for Terri. She has been able to learn something new from everyone in the course.
“I always approach every class as a mutual learning experience. I am trying to move farther away from lecture in order to engage in more discussion and small group work.”
As a class, students look at various lyrics to Hamilton songs and apply different methods of analysis to help break the songs down. Students also work in small groups to interact more closely with both the lyrics and one another.
MaryKate Foley ’19 admits she was one of the students who had prior knowledge about the musical before starting the class. MaryKate says she has seen the musical a couple of times and knew the soundtrack by heart, but she is still learning a lot from the class.
“From being in the class, I am learning a lot more about Hamilton. I am digging deeper into the meanings of different song lyrics, and I’m even learning about Alexander Hamilton, which is interesting. It sometimes feels crazy that our course is focused on Hamilton, but I love it!”
Terri strongly believes teaching a course centered around Hamilton would not detract students from enrolling: “Saint Mary’s students select into the classes they want and sometimes that means selecting classes where students have to expand their worldview.”
Popular culture is always changing; what is popular now may not have the same popularity a year from now.
“I am sure there will be something new in the future, but for now, I am going to stick with Hamilton for my Introduction to Rhetoric course because it’s fun and I think there is still more to be explored!”
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