Please join us for a colloquium being given by Shamus Khan, Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University.
From Cultural Purity to Segregated Inclusion: Subscribers to the New York Philharmonic in the Gilded Age
This talk uses a new database of subscribers to the New York Philharmonic to explore how cultural participation cemented elite status in late nineteenth-century America. Our database has information on who subscribed to the Philharmonic between 1880 and 1910 – the key period of upper class consolidation in the United States, and in the city of New York in particular. In analyzing these data we seek to understand how culture worked as an elite resource in that era. We find partial support for the classic account of monopolization and exclusiveness of high culture, showing how over the long Gilded Age the social elite of New York attended the Philharmonic both increasingly and in more socially patterned ways. Yet we also find that the orchestra opened up to a new group of subscribers who did not share the social practices, occupational background, or residential choices of more elite patrons. These new members were a group of cultured, non-elite subscribers. Their inclusion was also segregated, by which we mean that the two groups participated in the same cultural practice but did not mingle within the hall and lived separately outside of it. We argue that elite class formation involved both exclusion in the form of segregation, but also the inclusion of new cultural elites who helped consecrate elite tastes.