What is the History of Popular Culture? (i)

'All human life is there'. But is it - and can it be interpreted on a par with the chronicles of the great and good? Five social historians discuss the relevance of history without 'kings and things'.

It is easier to participate in, to enjoy, to deplore, or to explore popular culture than it is to define it. This is not simply because there are difficulties in relating popular culture to culture (and sub-cultures) or to folk culture – some of these difficulties are of the historian's making, particularly the Marxist historian's – but because of the inherent difficulties in defining 'culture' itself. It was not because of his particular political or cultural stance that T.S. Eliot chose to collect 'notes towards a definition of culture' rather than to offer a definition of his own.

I seldom use the term 'popular culture' myself, although I am deeply interested in its history and in the various meanings attached to it. The language of 'mass culture' has appealed to me even less, although I have tried to trace its history too. I have found some of the detailed American studies of selected aspects of it extremely stimulating, particularly those with a sense of fun. I like the attempt too to evaluate as well as to analyse and interpret. This has its origins in literature rather than in social studies. Story-telling counts.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.