The arts have received relatively little attention from social historians and this review essay serves as a way to ponder that neglect and its ramifications. Surveying four recent books, whose topics range from roving theater groups in Ghana to the radio airwaves of Brazil, the visual arts of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s in the U.S., and a collection of essays on contemporary Berlin, this article offers an opportunity to investigate the field—and suggests what social historians might add. The books reveal the embedded effects of the lessons of social history in current scholarship: the privileging of social forces over formal analysis of aesthetics; attention to the institutionalization of the arts; attempts to analyze audiences; and the grounding of theoretical concerns by adherence to evidence and the specifics of time and place. They also raise the specter of what is lost—the reduction of the arts to socially determined categories. Through a closer understanding of urbanization and local situations, social historians have the opportunity to detail a context for the arts which both specifies the underlying social forces and reveals the subtle transformations the arts can inspire.


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pp. 1177-1185
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