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Overview of Doing History Through Music

Digital History TOPIC ID 44

Today, Americans use music to pass time, to relax, to set a mood, and, in religious services, to express spiritual beliefs. In the past, music served other functions. Immigrant groups passed down traditions through song. Work songs helped laborers to cope with the hardship of their tasks and synchronize their movements. Many social movements, including the labor movement, the women's suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement, created a repertoire of protest songs. American popular music is the product of a mixture of diverse elements, including Native American, African, English, Scottish and Irish, German, Latin American, and Hawaiian musical cultures.

Music provides the soundtrack of our lives. We listen to music to pass time, to relax, and to set a mood. But as important as music is to our lives, we seldom treat it as a window into history. In fact, American popular music provides an index into certain fundamental historical experiences, such as slavery and immigration.

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