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Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization)
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Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  348 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In this wide-ranging study, spanning more than a century & covering such diverse forms of expressive culture as Shakespeare, Central Park, symphonies, jazz, art museums, the Marx Brothers, opera & vaudeville, America's leading cultural historian demonstrates how variable & dynamic cultural boundaries have been & how fragile & recent the cultural categor ...more
Paperback, First paperback edition, 320 pages
Published September 1st 1990 by Harvard University Press (first published 1988)
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This title has really reignted my historical curiosity concerning American Popular Culture. Essentially, Levine is arguing that a cross-class American cultural consensus existed in the first half of the nineteenth century, but was eroded by the turn of the century by elite efforts to separate "art" from "popular culture." While colonial and antebellum elites had contented themselves with the same performances as their middling neighbors, through the second half of the 1800s they successfully est ...more
Fred R
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
An excellent, useful cultural history. It jumps back and forth a little too much in time and subject, but the gradual collapse of an inter-class, unified American culture detailed here is almost heartbreaking.

In response to the growing cultural gulf between upper and lower class, the American elite (which meant, particularly after the Civil War, the Northeastern elite) pursued a two-pronged strategy of mass uplift and (you'll recognize this one from Baltzell's masterpiece) cloistered retreat. O
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After hearing it referenced by professors and peers for what seemed like years, I finally read it. I'm so glad that this book lived up to my expectations.

Levine explores the shifts from a shared, perhaps 'popular' culture, to one of heirarchy at the end of the 1800s. Chapters focus on Shakespeare's popularity, theater and opera, symphonic music, and museums.

I feel like this book could be read by academics and laymen alike (how dare I use that term!) because of Levine's writing style. He isn't Fo
Andrew Miller
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent text. Levine brings to light the history behind the current cultural hierarchy that exists in America. It helps me feel better about despising modern art, as Levine would suggest, it only exists to create distinguished groups-you're not supposed to get it. The format is simple and clear. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how enjoying Shakespeare or opera now makes you part of a distinguished class.
Ronald Johnson
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a wonderful example of how scholarship can challenge our preconceptions and help us to reconsider the way we view the world. The author shows that Shakespeare and opera were both considered popular entertainment in America until just before the turn of the 20th century. In the first half of the book, he provides abundant evidence to support this remarkable claim, and then he invites the reader to wonder not only why things changed around 1900, but also why we are blind to the way th ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating stories on American cultural life in the 19th century, specifically on how a very broad audience enjoyed areas of culture that we would now classify as strictly highbrow: opera and classical music were frequented by people of all walks of life. Concerts often mixed operatic arias with popular music, folk songs, etc. with the result that opera, albeit in a different from than now, enjoyed a much wider audience. It's almost a pity that this form of music performance died out, especiall ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I wanted to LOVE the subject, but because I volunteer as a museum docent, I hoped to score a big heap of information and insights about art collecting, then and now. The book spends a lot more time on Shakespeare and music, just not my main interest right now.
But I have to give the book happy credit for providing me with this:

By the close of its first year of Sunday attendance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reported that Sunday visitors (some 30% of all visitors) had, through a rigorous policy
Oct 21, 2007 marked it as to-read
still haven't gotten around to finishing it, but here are some notes to self:

p.4 - Shakespeare actually used to be popular entertainment back in 19th-century America... you don't need to be "educated" to enjoy him -- just grown up with it constantly around you, labeled clearly as popular entertainment.

p. 31 - Gerald Nachman: "Shakespeare becomes theatrical spinach: He's good for you. If you digest enough of his plays, you'll grow up big and strong intellectually like teacher."

"Alfred Harbage cha
Jan 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
This book was interesting in that it addressed culture in America in the 19th century and the segregation into 'high culture' and 'low culture'. In the first half of the 1800's, there was no 'class' in culture. As societal classes developed, so did the separation between high or 'real' culture and popular culture. This book speaks to the evolution of the audience from participatory with a voice to a silent, passive audience.

This book is good food for thought. You have to ask yourself about your
Jul 28, 2010 rated it liked it
I concentrated on Levine's methodology as opposed to the content, in particular. Most reviewer's of this monograph do not mention the fact that the author is arguing with Allen Bloom about the definition of art. Levine comes out on the side of process philosophy (pragmatism). He highlights the second-generation Straussian tendency towards radical esotericism. For him this means a sort of unspoken elitism among the Straussian school. Of course he's right. However his conclusion is that culture sh ...more
Sarah Funke Donovan
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
If you are only going to read one historical analysis of American culture, read this one, if only for the humorous anecdotes about popular audiences in the 19th century. Riots and burlesques? The wrath of the gallery gods? The prestige of symphony directors? The eclectic collection of Victorian museums? The consequences of fiddling with Shakespeare?

Found the answers to these questions and more in Levine's account of the shifting divide between "pop" and "high" cultures, a divide that we could pe
Rokas Kucinskas
Apr 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A must read for all jazz music lovers. Gives a great understanding of how high and low dynamics emerged, which are of a great importance to jazz music, too. Although the author touch the subject of jazz very briefly only by the end of the study, to those who know about the placing of the music between two categories, the book will be of a huge interest and enlightenment. After all, the author deals largely with the advent of 20th century, which marked the emergence of jazz music.
Jan 26, 2015 rated it liked it
The last 100 pages was extremely interesting and insightful and worthwhile. Levine's questions about culture are thoughtful and provocative and they definitely made the first 2/3 of the book worthwhile. The first 2/3, while interesting and well-researched and documented, didn't have nearly the interest to me as the consideration of what his recounting of history in the earlier sections of the work meant for our understanding of the dynamic history of culture and its development.
Sep 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
An excellent, fascinating, and often hilarious demonstration that the distinction between "highbrow" and "popular" culture in the United States is a creation of the order-obsessed later nineteenth century. In the early nineteenth century, Shakespeare productions often looked like vaudeville, and opera was frequently translated into English (with altered endings!).
Oct 24, 2013 rated it liked it
An important touchstone book in culture studies. While later critics like Jan Radway, Joan Shelley Rubin, and Amy Blair have complicated Levine's central construct (high/low brow) with the middlebrow, it still is an important foundational work.
Dec 20, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club
There have been so many changes since the author finished this book. Wealth and technology now are culture game changers. This book concentrates to heavily on 1800s & 1900s and not more current times.
Mary McCray
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Must read for anyone thinking there is any legitimacy between the labels high and low brow. This is mostly a survey of 19th Century entertainment in America and the moment and for what purpose high-brow was created.
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
A wonderful book into the emergence of contemporary cultural categories in historical America. Fascinating reading for anyone who wants to understand historical patterns of reception and their influence on contemporary life.
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
fascinating study of the idea of highbrow in the united states, mostly told through how shakespeare was considered populist dreck in the 19th century, and how it shifted, and what that means.
weberian assumptions and pragmatist apparatus. but where is the analysis of the no-brow, e.g., reality shows, monster trucks, wrestling, &c.?
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on American culture. As a former student, I can say he was better in person. I've never found his writing as engaging as his talks.
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
A superlative read, covering all aspects of the evolution of "culture," and who dictates it-the many or the few
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting book about how we ended up with one "high culture" for educated or wealthy folks, and another "low culture" for the rest of us.
Aug 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Cultural theory people, academic types
Shelves: academicparanoia
Incredibly influential on my thinking as a scholar. Great examples mixed with insight yields books like this. Helped shape the course of New Historicism in America.
Sarah Stella
Dec 06, 2012 rated it liked it
This book certainly reiterated the "how" of the division into high and low culture across a number of artistic fields without delving enough into the "why" for my taste.
Seth Moko
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Cultural history of changes in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Why is Shakespeare and symphonic music and opera no longer part of everyday culture?
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Jun 28, 2012
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Lawrence William Levine was a celebrated American historian. He was born in Manhattan and died in Berkeley, California.

A model of the engaged scholar throughout his life, Levine lived both his scholarship and his politics. From the very outset, he immersed himself in the political life of Berkeley – in, for example, a sleep-in in the rotunda of the state capitol in Sacramento to press for fair hou
More about Lawrence W. Levine...

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“In fact, is the idea of a serious comparison of American musicals and opera really so outrageous?” 0 likes
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