Fall 2016 Issue

Senior Finds the Economic Groove in Hamilton’s Lyrics

Like many of us, Courtney Conrad has not been able to get tickets to see the smash Broadway hit Hamilton. But she’s a fan nonetheless.

“I have listened to the entire cast album enough times to be able to sing all of the characters’ parts in the car, office, anywhere,” she says.

Conrad, a senior economics major from Selinsgrove, Pa., has turned her fangirling into unique research that analyzes some of the show’s music. She presented her research this summer at the Student Conference in Business and Economics at Elizabethtown College.

She was inspired by Matt Rousu, professor and Warehime chair of the Department of Economics, who teaches economics principles using Broadway musicals, including Hamilton.

“The show tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. treasury secretary, using hip-hop tunes,” Rousu says. “As you might imagine, given its subject, there’s some really great stuff in there about economics.”

For example, the piece Cabinet Battle #1 features a debate between Hamilton and then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson about Hamilton’s financial plan for the new nation. “This song is a brilliant introduction to Hamilton’s financial plan,” Rousu says. “It also makes for a good introduction to many modern topics, such as the controversies over having a central bank. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve Bank, which came into being in 1913, is still controversial, with some major contemporary political candidates wishing to abolish it.”

Hamilton’s three-pronged plan, which included the creation of a central bank, passed following a compromise with Jefferson in which the federal government assumed the states’ debts in exchange for the U.S. capital moving from New York City to Washington, D.C.

“A remarkable trend with this musical is that audience members and listeners of Hamilton are able to learn about a part of American history that they may not have taken an interest in otherwise,”Conrad says. “This phenomenon serves as an excellent link to innovatively teaching economics.”

Conrad and Rousu have analyzed many songs from Hamilton, and she has assisted him with his website, “Because of his passion and innovation, Dr. Rousu has inspired me to ‘carry his torch’ and pursue a career in academia where I can contribute to economics through my research, but also serve as an engaging and relatable mentor and educator for students,” Conrad says.

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