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American Folklife Center
The twentieth century has been called the age of documentation, and folklorists and other ethnographers have taken advantage of each succeeding technology, from Thomas Edison's wax-cylinder recording machine, invented in 1877, to the latest digital audio equipment, in order to record the voices and music of many regional
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Art, Society, and Culture
American art used to refer in a self-evident manner to art produced by Americans. Since the 1960s this relative clarity has become muddled. Now, as never before, the meaning of the term American is under dispute and riddled with contradictions. And so is the term art.
Class and Culture
Perhaps the most definitive thing one can say about “class” and “ culture” in America is that, as long as there has been an American culture, Americans have been confused about class. At its most extreme this has led to the claim that class does not exist, or at least does not matter, in the United States. This idea makes little sense, but its persistence is itself part of the reality of class in U.S. culture.
Culture and Cultural Studies
Culture is an elusive term that for decades has been at the heart of the American studies project. In his often-cited 1957 essay, “Can 'American Studies' Develop a Method?,” Henry Nash Smith defined American studies as “the study of American culture, past and present, as a whole,” and he defined culture as “the way in which subjective experience is organized.”
The discipline of folklore concerns itself with identifying and examining traditional materials, ideas, and performances as they are used in interactions among members of various national, social, or cultural groups. American studies, as a discipline, has tended to focus not on the materials of folklore but rather on the grouping of people into collectives that share a number of traits and can be classified as “folk culture.”
The study of popular culture is one of the core components of the field of American studies. Efforts to define culture have historically provided academics and prominent critics in society with an enormous degree of power as these elites make judgments over what is “in” and what is “out.” This central struggle has periodically created rancorous quarrels and disputes. One of the more endur
The phrase youth culture was a product of the twentieth-century realization that young people had acquired enough power in the society to create autonomous cultures distinct from and often resistant to adult cultures.
Selected Streaming Videos
The Songs are Free
In this program, Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the musical group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and curator of the Community Life Division of the Smithsonian Institution, discusses with Bill Moyers how black music has shaped the African-American experience and identity.
Thomas Hart Benton:Tom Benton's Missouri
Painting America was his life’s work, and Thomas Hart Benton was at the apex of his career when he painted Social History of the State of Missouri.
Jazz: PBS Series
The story of jazz begins in New Orleans, 19th-century America's most cosmopolitan city. Here, in the 1890s, African-American artists created a new music out of ragtime syncopations, Caribbean rhythms, marching band instrumentation, and the soulful feeling of the blues.