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  • Sport in Modern Europe
  • Alan Tomlinson†, Christopher Young, and Richard Holt

The six articles in this forum section of the Journal of Sport History stem from a symposium (July 2008) organized by the "Sport in Modern Europe: Perspectives on a Comparative Cultural History" Network, sponsored by the U.K.'s Arts and Humanities Research Council, and held at Pembroke College, Cambridge. The symposium was designed to raise and/or revisit core methodological debates concerning the nature of historical research and scholarship into sport and sport cultures, in particular in relation to the continent of Europe. Symposium participants were encouraged to think beyond customary disciplinary boundaries and intellectual territories in approaching the question of how best to go about framing the study of sport in Europe, as opposed to the continuation of valuable but rarely connected separate histories of national sporting cultures. The aims of the network, and the deliberations and responses of the participants, can be consulted on the network's website— For this forum, we have selected a spread of articles that, true to the spirit of the symposium, raise key conceptual [End Page 1] and empirical questions, review historiographical traditions, and both reaffirm and seek to transcend recurrent and difficult methodological challenges. The articles are developments therefore of position papers, brainstorming interventions, and sustained response, reflection, and comment by presenter and participants at the July 2008 event. They are infused with the dialogic spirit that characterized the symposium exchanges and debate.

The first article by Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young discusses the question of the impact of sport history in the academy, reviews the nature and longevity of Allen Guttmann's ideal-typical characterization of the nature of modern sports, and reflects on alternative ways of engaging with the historical character and development of sport in Europe. Tomlinson and Young concentrate upon broad questions of theory-construction and the relationship of conceptual models such as the ideal-type to the understanding of historical periods and the complex dynamics of historical influences in the making of sports. In doing this, they broaden the interpretive agenda of any approach based in the works of Max Weber, pointing to the complexity of sporting institutions and contradictions and tensions characterizing the formation of particular sporting cultures and practices. In the second article, Patricia Vertinsky, focusing upon the controversial and colorful figure of U.S. dancer Isadora Duncan, reminds scholars of sport that there are body cultures that derive from different traditions with distinctive trajectories and impacts from those of formal or institutionalized sport forms. Her article examines the exportability of Duncan's aesthetic to Europe, her appropriation of specific movement techniques and sources of inspiration, the nature of her art and her feminism, and her involvement with leading artists and political radicals in France, Germany, and Russia. The case of Duncan and modern dance is also related to Henning Eichberg's trialectic model of body cultures, showing it to be a particularly fertile ground for examining the introduction of new ideas about expressive movement, gendered identities, and the active female body in the early years of the twentieth century. In the third article, Maarten van Bottenburg revisits the diffusion debate, bringing to bear a range of sociological perspectives in theorizing the historical evolution—and spread—of sports within and across Europe. He discusses two lessons to be learned for the writing of a comprehensive, synthetic cultural history of sport in modern Europe. First, such a history should critically re-examine unidirectional models in analyses of sports diffusion. This holds true for both the commonplace that Britain was the centre of diffusion and the general assumption that these sports diffused from Britain to the rest of the world. More attention should be paid to reverse processes of diffusion. Second, to avoid oversimplifying notions of "trickle down" effects, a cross-national cultural history of sport in modern Europe should give more focus to processes of adaptation and reinterpretation, as well as contestation and rejection, and analyze their consequences.

Problematizing the historical variations in the development of sport—indeed, in its relation to more broadly conceived forms of body culture—also raises provocative questions concerning how...


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