Summary: The Emergence Of Cultural Hierarchy In America

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In his Highbrow/Lowbrow The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization, 1986), Lawrence Levine reviews the American public culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. He believes that American public culture was shared across classes through the mid-nineteenth century. By the later nineteenth century, the upper classes began to divide culture into hierarchal categories, and labels of "high" and "low" came to expressive culture, such as Shakespearean drama, opera, and orchestral music, as well as institutions such as museums.
The first thing in this book that surprised me is that how popular that Shakespearean drama, opera, and orchestral music were, and more important, how well these nowadays so-believed "high" arts integrated well with magicians, acrobats, and comics, such today so-believed "low" expressive forms. In the nineteenth century, Shakespearean drama, opera, and orchestral music were
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I am also inspired by the methodologies in this book. The author surveys and quotes a considerable amount of private diaries/letters, as well as newspapers, magazines, and theater advertisements. The amount of work that the author did to convey his argument is impressed. And fist hand materials, including diaries, advertisements, and news reports are more convincing and easier to be understood. This methodology helps a wider reader group to digest the author 's argument, which is especially helpful for readers that have little knowledge on art history or the history of America.
In conclusion, even though this is not an art history or museum history book per se, it successfully introduces the social and ideological environment for expressive arts in the nineteenth and early twentieth century America. The book is not only useful to understand the development of museum in America, but also helpful to comprehend discourses and debates in art history and the history of specific art
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