RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The smash Broadway hit "Hamilton" has made it into the annals of history with a place in the Library of Congress. By popular demand, a digitized version of the library's collection of Alexander Hamilton's papers, both personal and official, is now online. Here's NPR's Lynn Neary.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Until now, if you wanted to see Alexander Hamilton's letters to his wife for example, you had to travel to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Even then, you'd have to view them on microfilm. All that has changed. Julie Miller, curator of early manuscripts, says there's a new digitized version of the Hamilton collection.
JULIE MILLER: The website is meant to open these up to a much broader public.
NEARY: I don't know, is it - is it an accident that this is happening at the same time that there's so much interest in Alexander Hamilton's life?
MILLER: The short answer is no. It's not an accident.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALEXANDER HAMILTON")
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) My name is Alexander Hamilton, and there's a million things I haven't done. But just you wait, just you wait.
NEARY: Miller says the enormous popularity of the play motivated the library to make almost 900 Hamilton documents available on the internet. Miller and members of the library's digital team held a briefing recently on the collection. Underneath a screen showing the new website, Miller laid out some original documents.
MILLER: So we're going to start with something very, very early. This is actually a famous letter.
NEARY: In the letter, written when he was 12 years old, Hamilton expresses his desire for what he calls a larger life.
MILLER: So this is what the letter looks like.
NEARY: Let me see. Oh, my gosh.
MILLER: And he has fantastically good handwriting.
NEARY: I was going to say it's so neat.
MILLER: Right. And the reason he has such good handwriting is because he was a clerk in a trader's office on the docks in St. Croix. So part of being a clerk was learning how to write like that.
NEARY: Hamilton signs off with a youthful flourish, a signature that ends in a series of curly cues. It's this kind of detail, says Bill Kellum, of the library's web division, that makes the digital collection so fascinating.
BILL KELLUM: When you take the papers or the archives of a person and put them online, you get to see all of the things that are not famous. Whether it's their receipts or their letters, or it's correspondence that previous experts have thought unimportant, you get to see those and get access to them. That really kind of humanizes a person.
MILLER: One of the most moving documents in the collection is a letter written by Hamilton to his wife, Eliza, the night before his duel with Aaron Burr.
It says, (reading)
This letter will not be delivered to you unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career.
So in other words, unless I'm - you know, if I'm dead, you'll get this letter, basically. And then he says, (reading)
With my last idea, I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.
And I think this is what people know from the play.
(Reading) Adieu, best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALEXANDER HAMILTON")
MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) I'll be back before you know I'm gone.
PHILLIPA SOO: (As Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, singing) Come back to sleep.
MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) This meeting's at dawn.
SOO: (As Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, singing) Well, I'm going back to sleep.
MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) Hey, best of wives and best of women.
MILLER: And that was the end of Alexander Hamilton.
NEARY: And there's the letter.
MILLER: And that's the letter.
NEARY: You can now see that letter and more than 800 other documents from the Hamilton collection on the Library of Congress website. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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