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Deconstructing Sport History

A Postmodern Analysis

Murray G. Phillips, Alun Munslow

Publication Year: 2006

This groundbreaking collection challenges the accepted principles and practices of sport history and encourages sport historians to be more adventurous in their representations of the sporting past in the present. Encompassing a wide range of critical approaches, leading international sport historians reflect on theory, practice, and the future of sport history. They survey the field of sport history since its inception, examine the principles that have governed the production of knowledge in sport history, and address the central concerns raised by the postmodern challenge to history. Sharing a common desire to critique contemporary practices in sport history, the contributors raise the level of critical analysis of the production of historical knowledge, provide examples of approaches by those who have struggled with or adapted to the postmodern challenge, and open up new avenues for future sport historians to follow.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations


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pp. iii


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

As a history undergraduate, in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, I was told that only through an unrelenting diligence in the archive could I move toward better, balanced, and justified explanations about what happened in the past. And, of course, only through rational inference might I be able to tell what it most likely meant. In this way I learned that the logic of history...

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Introduction: Sport History and Postmodernism

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pp. 1-24

In Deconstructing History, Alun Munslow offers a critique of the empirical research method that provides a direct challenge to sport history and a glimpse into the wider turmoil in the historical profession. Disagreements, dissention, and controversy are certainly nothing new to the historical profession, but the last couple of decades have witnessed a growing critique of fundamental historical practices that have characterized the discipline. The...

PART ONE: On Theory

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1. Sport Historians: What Do We Do? How Do We Do It?

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pp. 27-54

Sport historians have no difficulty recognizing the content of their field. Any study of bygone events, individuals, groups, practices, and institutions with a sporting flavor constitutes sport history. But ask historians of sport to formally define the objectives, assumptions, methods, and modes of presentation of their discipline, and they talk in vague terms about facts...

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2. Sport History between the Modern and Postmodern

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pp. 55-73

In dealing with the challenge of postmodern historiography and theory to traditional modes of history, most of us will keep doing what we have always done—attempting to understand the past from the present. The contribution of postmodern thought, however, has been to encourage critical reflection on the processes and methods involved in writing about the past...

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3. A Linguistic Turn into Sport History

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pp. 75-91

I came to sport history from literary studies. To be more precise, for the past fifteen years or so I have been writing about the cultural history of American football while continuing to teach American literature at my day job; and it is in the conjunction of the two disciplines that I discovered my method for reconstructing...

PART TWO: On Practice

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4. Partial Knowledge: Photographic Mystifications and Constructions of “The African Athlete”

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pp. 95-115

This chapter deconstructs a single photograph that has been disseminated during the past century in a range of publications, many of which have been related to the world of sports. My objective is to reveal the instability of visual images and the considerable slippage in the ways in which a photograph may be used and read during...

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5. Anecdotal Evidence: Sport, the Newspaper Press, and History

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pp. 117-129

In a recent review of Terry Eagleton’s The Gatekeeper, the literary theorist Terence Hawkes remarked of autobiography that it is “one of the sublest forms of fiction.”1 If we can agree with Hawkes that within the genre of life history there lurks a great deal of invention, how true might this also be of newspapers. Examples abound. The extent to which the “good story” has...

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6. Wasn’t It Ironic? The Haxey Hood and the Great War

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pp. 131-146

The Great War of 1914–1918 gave many British people from diverse walks of life occasion for a reappraisal of the most fundamental order. As more and more began to understand, to represent, and to experience the conflict as an enormous, scandalous tragedy, the greater the gulf that seemed to separate the prewar world from that which came after.1 The impact on...

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7. Decentering “Race” and (Re)presenting “Black” Performance in Sport History: Basketball and Jazz in American Culture, 1920–1950

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pp. 147-177

Whereas today basketball style is firmly ensconced within hip hop culture, an earlier innovative, pre–World War II style was connected to jazz. Cultural studies scholar Todd Boyd notes that “the steamy poetry of the bandstand and dance floor has long found exquisite parallels in the intensity and fancy footwork of the African American sportsman.” It should be no...

PART THREE: On the Future

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8. Beyond Traditional Sports Historiography: Toward a Historical “Holograph”

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pp. 181-201

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the methodological issues that sport historians are grappling with align with the methodological issues that scholars from other disciplines—most especially history, but drawing from a variety of sources—seek to examine. There has been, in the past quarter century (at least) an emerging and specific sea change in how...

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9. Contact with God, Body, and Soul: Sport History and the Radical Orthodoxy Project

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pp. 203-226

In 1998 I composed a critique of sport history in the form of a postmodern essay entitled “A History of Synchronized Swimming.”1 In the essay, I wanted to challenge sport historians to go beyond easy alliances with social history and sociological models, and I wanted to explore practically how a specific sport history might look when disparate ideas labeled as postmodern...

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10. Time Gentlemen Please: The Space and Place of Gender in Sport History

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pp. 227-243

Gender is a determining factor in cultural production.1 The gradual inclusion within sport history of a focus upon gender, which in turn has pressed the academy to pay attention to a wider and deeper version of the history of sport and physical education, is to be celebrated. In particular, the conflation of feminism and certain elements of postmodernism has...

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pp. 245-253

Some readers of this book will share Himmelfarb’s skepticism and disdain for all things postmodern. At the heart of her concerns are the challenges made by postmodernism to the fundamental way we produce knowledge, and, as pointed out in the introduction, there are certainly well articulated concerns about postmodernism and postmodern history. Himmelfarb’s...


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pp. 255-257


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pp. 259-263

SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations

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pp. 265-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482506
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791466094
Print-ISBN-10: 0791466094

Page Count: 274
Illustrations: 5 tables, 2 figures
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations