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  • European Sport Historiography: Challenges and Opportunities
  • Christopher Young, Anke Hilbrenner, and Alan Tomlinson

Sport as a participant activity and as a spectator entertainment has been a central cultural feature of European economic, social, and political life in the “long” twentieth century. European sport has developed—and has been studied—primarily within the framework of the nation state. There is now a critical mass of research on the development of sport in continental Europe, from the diffusion of British sport in the late nineteenth century to the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late twentieth century. However, there is no general account of the modern history of European sport from a comparative and international perspective. And until recently, there has been no attempt to draw together and critically examine the various strands of the relevant research emerging from across Europe and North America. Indeed no single person or even small group of individuals could hope to master the linguistically diffuse research material on the subject, and there are very few forums for collaborative exchange between experts from different disciplines, countries, and national scholarly traditions.

Over the last three years, however, two groups have been engaged in exploring European sports history in comparative fashion: “Sport in Modern Europe—Perspectives on a Comparative Cultural History” (sponsored by the U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research [End Page 181] Council, based in the University of Cambridge, and led by Christopher Young, Alan Tomlinson, and Richard Holt); and “Integration and Disintegration—The Social and Cultural History of Eastern European Sport in International Comparison” (sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, based in the University of Bonn, and led by Anke Hilbrenner).1 The former presented some of its work in the Forum section of the Journal of Sport History in 2010 (volume 37, number 1), and we are extremely grateful to the editors for allowing us this renewed opportunity to disseminate our ongoing findings in the oldest and most respected journal in the field. The overarching aim of both networks is to establish the central economic, political, and social themes for the writing of a history of modern European sport, as well as the most appropriate methods and approaches to achieve this end—and this joint Forum section (split over this and the next issue) marks the beginning of a productive synergy between them.

The lack of an up-to-date, or indeed any, historiography of European sport is a glaring hole in the discipline that hinders the development of serious further study. Some steps have been taken towards remedying this fact in recent years, namely via an article surveying English and French sports history (by Richard Holt and Paul Dietschy in the Journal of Sport History in 2010) and another covering Germany (by Christopher Young and Kay Schiller in German History 2009).2 To these, we now add critical surveys of: Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Russia. These eight new historiographies draw on pockets of expertise, mainly amongst young scholars in Europe and beyond. They outline the key themes in the history of sport in the relevant individual country and, in some cases, its surrounding regions; detail the best research of the last ten to fifteen years, both from within the respective national community and beyond it internationally; and, finally, identify areas for further work. Together with the already published historiographies of England/France and Germany, the contributors to this Forum have covered the major areas within which European sport developed both as a physical, material, and ideological entity and as a subject of academic study. In this brief introduction we draw on all ten pieces, citing from them without further detailed reference.

One major obstacle to the writing of a comparative history of sport in Europe is the fact that accounts remain almost exclusively locked within national borders. As Holt and Dietschy observe, “this narrow focus on the nation is common to most areas of history, but it is particularly ironic in the case of sport. A quintessentially modern sport such as association football has the same rules and even the same regulatory body across the continent (UEFA). It has arguably been shaped by the same economic and social forces...


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pp. 181-187
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