Social history and music history

Herbert, T. (2011) Social history and music history. In: The cultural study of music: a critical introduction [2nd Edition]. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN 9780415881906 (hardback) 9780415881913 (paperback) 9780203149454 (e-book)


There are other disjunctions between the idea of history as seen by professional historians and the way history is used by musicians. Historians, particularly those for whom social and cultural history have been subsidiary to political and constitutional history, have typically used music as the fodder of footnotes, merely illustrating background social and cultural patterns. But can social history-particularly in its newer cultural forms, and employing wider discourses than are offered simply by economic and demographic parameters-offer alternative perspectives to music history, and, if it can, will it matter? The critical reflection within both disciplines in the closing decades of the twentieth century, forced as it was by wider theoretical debates, makes such questions especially compelling. My purpose here is to give an overview of some traditions of history and music history, and-in the light of newer, more radical approaches to historical discourse-to examine convergences and divergences between the two disciplines. The main question I want to pose is whether there are new avenues for genuine social histories of Western art music.

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