Why History Is Powerful - Clara Migala

Senior student Clara Migala shares with us her love for history and why a popular historical play can help you and I understand how our decisions today affect tomorrow.   
I’ve always loved musicals, but when I heard the Broadway hit Hamilton, my love became an outright obsession. Hamilton chronicles the life of United States founding father and Treasurer Alexander Hamilton, using rap and killer choreography to tell the story of how he, a penniless orphan from the Caribbean, became a war hero in the American Revolution and founded his own political party, the Federalists.

One of the biggest reasons that 
Hamilton is so captivating is how real the characters are. They aren’t heroes or villains, they aren’t invincible, and they certainly aren’t perfect.  Although the achievements of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and yes, Alexander Hamilton, seem legendary to us now, they were people just like us, fighting
to make their mark on the great wide world in front of them.

One of the musical’s- and I believe, humanity’s- continuous ideas is that in the world we live in, not everyone succeeds, not everyone survives, and not everyone gets remembered. As we get older, the life decisions we have to make get more and more serious, whether it’s what college we go to, what career path we choose, or even who we vote for, but we have to make these decisions without a crystal ball to tell us which choice is the best for us. 

We cannot see what the future will hold. However, we can see the past.

This is where History comes in. For a many, the word “History” brings to mind huge, dry textbooks telling about this battle (The Battle of Vienna, 1683) between these people (The Ottoman Turks, who had attacked Vienna, and the Holy Roman Empire, who was defending the city), and who won what land (The Christians saved Vienna).

What I see is an event that somehow got us to where we are today, be it our language, religion, holidays, or government. The Battle of Vienna, for example, marked the farthest point that invading Islamic forces ever advanced in a 300 year war against their Christian enemies. It marks one of the closest moments in the last 1,000 years that the Christian way of life came to devastation. Personally, I also find it noteworthy that in celebration of the victory, the Austrians made a delicious pastry in the shape of a crescent moon, the symbol on the defeated Turkish flags. Today those pastries are known as “croissants,” although time and the French have all but erased their true origin.

When most think “People of History” they see a flash card with a name on it (Thomas Jefferson), with two dates (1743-1826) and maybe just enough bullet points of information to ace the multiple choice section of your upcoming exam (3rd President; Lived in Monticello; Declaration of Independence). 

What I see is a human with real dreams, who had no idea whether his actions would have a lasting impact. True, Jefferson’s many, many accomplishments remain incredible today—not the least of which was introducing macaroni and cheese to the United States—he had weaknesses aplenty. One notable weakness was that, despite being an excellent writer (no great surprise considering the Declaration of Independence), Jefferson had such horrible stage fright that he would tremble when speaking publicly and avoided it altogether.

So when I open a history book, I try to solve the puzzle of why the obscure battle from 800 years ago influenced who I am today, and when I read about the accomplishments of some random name amid thousands, I try to imagine why they acted as they did and what I would have done in his or her shoes. Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but those who learn from past mistakes will shape not only the present, but the future.
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  • Emily Guthrie
    That's my co-salutatorian!