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Reviewed by:
  • Routledge Companion to Sports History
  • Benjamin P. Phillips
Pope, S.W., and John Nauright, eds. Routledge Companion to Sports History. London: Routledge, 2010. Pp. xvi+656. Bibliography and index. $139.50.

Within academia, sports history is an exciting and growing field. Having studied at large, public universities, football and basketball reigned supreme among the students and the surrounding community, but they were often surprisingly absent from discussion in the classroom. Why should such influential areas of everyday life be ignored and remain unanalyzed? The discovery of scholars like John Nauright and Allen Guttmann was a refreshing revelation in my academic career. Quickly, I realized that many talented academics had been writing about sports for many years, providing countless insights into how we view sports, history, and culture. Written by many of the most influential and renowned authors in the discipline, the Routledge Companion to Sports History serves as a thorough and invaluable work of the past, present, and possible future of the field.

The book is broken down into two parts: “Theory, Methods, and Key Themes in Sports History” and “Sports History around the World.” As the title indicates, the first half of the book examines the key areas of study within sports history. While some might anticipate a sport-by-sport analysis, examining the key theories, methods, and themes that permeate sports allows the reader to understand better the interconnectivity of the field and its relationship to the larger field of history. Understandably, many of the themes within the study of history are also highlighted here: the city, borderlands, gender, Marxism, race, religion, nationalism, etc. Yet, perhaps because of the universality of sports, their roles within sports often seem more accessible and noticeable than in other fields of historical study. For instance, in his chapter on imperialism, S.W. Pope notes that “the trans-Atlantic ideology of muscular Christianity provided a crucial moral justification for the institutionalization in the U.S. and Britain as well as a sense of mission for the export of American and British sporting practices abroad” (p. 237). Here, the themes of religion, nationalism, imperialism, international relations, and cultural hegemony all coalesce, helping to explain the power and complexity enmeshed within the spread of sports outward from Western nations. Such multifaceted connections are made throughout the book as all of the contributors emphasize the thickness of these themes within sports and society in general. [End Page 160]

Moreover, many of the contributors discuss the utilization of theories from sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies within sports history. In his chapter on theory, Douglas Booth illustrates the growing use of interdisciplinary theories within the field. Concepts developed by Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Clifford Geertz are used to analyze historical movements within sports, while textual analyses challenge preconceived notions of master narratives and allow for multiple interpretations. While Booth notes that sports historians might be more likely to favor evidence over “what they regard as the distorting effects of theory on historical analysis,” theory has become an integral facet of the study of sports history (p. 27). However, as in history, historical evidence in the form of primary and secondary documents remains a fixture of the field and is displayed in the comprehensive citations found at the end of each chapter. The “Notes” sections alone are an incredible repository for any scholar interested in the study of sports history.

The second half of the book focuses on the study of sports globally, examining the histories of the field and the histories of sport in twenty-one separate regions. The chapters in the second half of the book offer the reader an outline of not only how the study of sports history often differs from region to region, but why it might differ. For instance, Martin Johnes notes that Great Britain is “home to one of the older and more vibrant historiographies of sport” (p. 444). Taking into account that the class-based society of Britain inspired Friedrich Engels to examine working-class issues and prompted cultural theorists like E.P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, and Richard Hoggart to observe culture “from below,” it is not surprising that much of the study of...


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