In the summer of 2016 my wife and I started listening to the amazing-ness that is "Hamilton: An American Musical". It's spurned a lot of great conversations and learning about history and the United States. It got us thinking, what are the pop culture media things that could help people learn about U.S. History? The following is our ongoing list that we hope will be fun and helpful for other people too. If any of you have other suggestions please feel free to use the contact page above.
- Jason Chao
Movie - 1 hour 21 minutes.
It's a classic that puts forwards a very glossy and happy veneer on the whole "let's come in and enslave these heathens" story of American colonization. Subsequently you can watch James Cameron's Avatar which is basically Pocahontas in space.
Movie - 1 hour and 29 minutes
So it's not really United States history. But the same cavalier attitude of white people thinking they're better than everyone else carries through. Also the story is inspired by Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King," which had its own movie with Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
Television Series 2014-Present
Play (Also there was a movie and a musical) By Arthur Miller
Musical. The soundtrack is available pretty much everywhere and runs 2 hours and 23 minutes
If you haven't listened to the musical yet, do so immediately. Seriously. Immediately. Just take the next 3 hours and listen to it. Then you'll probably need the next 3 hours cause you're going to want to listen to it again. Then look up all the annotations on genius and start googling American history facts.
Also...please don't download illegal recordings of the musical online. Lin-Manuel Miranda worked for 6 years, he has the right to have it shown in the way and at the pace that he wants. If anything petition him to make a movie and let me direct it.
6 book series with one more planned
An alternate history with magic, politics, and famous characters of the time. A great place to think about the what-ifs that often make history so much fun.
Movie - 2 hours and 45 minutes
Featuring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger before they became what they're known for now. Not a whole lot of history in this but it's still a great movie.
TV miniseries - 7 episodes
If the Hamilton Musical made you think John Adams was a complete fool and made you wonder why anyone would elect him president, then Paul Giamatti's portrayal may change your mind.
Don't like musicals? Feel like the HBO series has too much talking? Wish that the American revolution had more spies and more shooting? This is for you.
The Book of Negroes
TV miniseries - 6 episodes
How come U.S. History seems to feature only white people? Well that's because all the other people were enslaved. What was that like? Not fun. But that doesn't mean it can't make good TV.
Movie - 1 hour and 51 minutes
Native Americans used to live EVERYWHERE in America? You mean Americans aren't just white people? But Native Americans heroes definitely need to be white people. If Daniel Day-Lewis wasn't so amazing in this role maybe it would be easier to get offended. Seriously he is so good. Check him out in his other movies and tell me that it's the same person. I think Daniel Day-Lewis is just some secret Hollywood robot that they can use in any role but that needs 2 years to reboot.
Pre Civil War
Movie - 2 hours and 16 minutes
Gigantic land sales between countries could have corruption? Puss in boots made a live action puss in boots? Sign me up for more! (unfortunately the sequel was not as fun so maybe don't sign me up for more).
It was a novel that was turned into a TV show that was turned into a movie that was turned into a miniseries that was turned into a musical.
Makes you really feel like frontier life was both sweet and terrible at the same time.
In 1974 this game was created to teach children about the struggles of pioneers attempting to make their way across America. Whether we learned anything or not can be debated, but this game is permanently cemented in the memories of any child growing up in the 80s or 90s. Have you ever wondered why we hunted Bison into extinction? This game will tell you the answer: because it was so much fun. Unfortunately "You have died of dysentery".
Movie - 2 hours 35 minutes
About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt.