First-Year Seminar: Common Text

Each year, Saint Michael's College chooses a common text to be read and discussed by the incoming class of new students. All first-year students are asked to read the book over the summer prior to arriving on campus. A panel discussion of the book is held during Orientation in late August, and each First-Year Seminar discusses the book at the start of the fall and spring semesters.

The First-Year Seminar Common Text for 2018-2019 is Hamilton: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording) by Lin-Manuel Miranda (2015). The musical is inspired by historian Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton. It is the story of the life and death of an important figure in the history of the United States: an impoverished orphan who emigrated from the Caribbean to New York, eager for an education; who fought in the Revolutionary War; and who was then instrumental in helping to found the country. It is also the story of his marriage and family. On both the political and personal fronts, it is a tale of ambition, struggle, triumph, and a fall from grace. Whether or not there is also redemption is one of many questions that may evoke a range of responses. This dramatic retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s life and of a period of American history contains both comic and tragic dimensions, and its many levels of meaning combine the personal, social, and political. Musically, Hamilton blends rap, hip-pop, pop, R&B, and the traditions of musical theater. The lyrically rich text and engaging music of this historically-based piece of musical theater lend themselves to exploration, discussion, and debate within a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s text, music, and theatrical production also fit well with the FYS program’s effort to promote reflection on diversity, given the intentionally multicultural focus of the musical’s conception and performance. In 2016, Hamilton earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and eleven Tony Awards.

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We ask that incoming first-year students please use the original cast recording of Hamilton, to ensure that we are all experiencing and examining the same version of the musical. It is readily available from a variety of sources. The music may be purchased on CD from any music store and many bookstores, or it may be downloaded in digital form from online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play (for approximately $20). It also appears to be available on Spotify. We also ask that students read the full lyrics, since the work’s words, its story, and the interplay between these elements and the music is at the heart of this year’s selection. We do not expect students to have necessarily seen a live performance of the musical on Broadway or elsewhere. Our focus will be on this work of art as a text and piece of music.
Here is the official page for the music of Hamilton: The Musical. In the middle of this page, you can follow a link to the album booklet with the full lyrics in two parts: Acts I and II. The two-part booklet can either be viewed online or downloaded. For students who wish to delve into details about the theatrical production and performance, a useful (but optional) resource is Hamilton: The Revolution, co-authored by Lin-Manuel Miranda and collaborator Jeremy McCarther, a cultural critic and theater artist. This supplemental resource contains numerous photos, notes, commentary, and interviews. However, this supplemental source is not required reading as part of the Common Text selection. You can also find videos, articles, and books about Hamilton: The Musical and the history behind it on the library's Hamilton Resources page.

Reading and listening to this text will be your first step into the conversation that is a liberal arts education. To help you enter that conversation, your first-year seminar instructor will ask you to write a response to the text; you should watch your SMC email and home postal mail in early August for your summer writing assignment, due the first week of classes. (Students in spring seminars will get their letters over the winter break, but should still read and listen to the musical over the summer.)

Additionally, essays by three faculty responding to the book will be posted on the SMC portal by the end of July. You will receive an email informing you when they are available. During Fall Orientation, you’ll participate in a panel discussion with these faculty, so your instructor will likely ask you to also read their essays and perhaps incorporate responses to them into your own essay. 

Please purchase the music and download the text as soon as possible, either at your local music and book retailer or online. Some copies will be available all summer at the campus bookstore, so if you’re on campus, you can also buy it there. But don’t delay; listen, read, and reflect on the text so that you can jump into a conversation that is at the core of a liberal arts education.

For more information, contact:
Peter Vantine
Director, First-Year Seminar Program
Associate Professor of Modern Languages
Klein 114 
Box 227


Past First-Year Seminar Common Text Selections

2017-2018      Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

2016-2017       Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

  *To hear Ung's conversation with first-year students in fall 2015, watch this video

2015-2016       Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

2014-2015       James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

2013-2014       The Book of Job

2012-2011       Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

2011-2010       Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

2010-2011       Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe

2009-2010       Kafka, The Metamorphosis

2008-2009       Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower

2007-2008       Isak Dinesen, “Babette’s Feast”

2006-2007       Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

2004-2006       Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

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