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  • Sport History in Brazil:Cementing Local Foundations, Strengthening a Subdiscipline
  • Douglas Booth

In 2014 Brazil will host the football World Cup (for the second time and as one of only five nations to have staged the tournament twice), and in 2016 Rio de Janeiro will become the first South American city to host an Olympic games. Lest anyone doubt Brazil's status as a sporting powerhouse, these two events alone are proof writ large of the nation's place on the playing and political fields of competitive games.1 Concomitantly, the study of socio-cultural aspects of sport, including sport history, is burgeoning in Brazil. A decade ago Lamartine Da Costa reported that Brazil has 240 faculties, fourteen masters and four doctoral programs relating to physical education and sport.2 Commenting on the state of sport history in Brazil, Victor Melo and Rafael Fortes, two of the contributors to this forum, recently welcomed the subdiscipline's "wide acceptance" by local mainstream historians who "no longer" regard it as "something odd."3 Melo and Fortes attribute the "institutionalization" of sport history in Brazil to local historians who are "more open" to "new research possibilities" and "studies related to popular culture."4 Not surprisingly then, Da Costa could claim that "Brazilian academic production in this [End Page 371] area is often considered the biggest among Third World nations, with a possible exception of China."5

However, Da Costa added a "regrettable" caveat to his claim: "only a few authors have successfully overcome both the post-colonial prejudices of First World peers and, more importantly, the barrier of the English language as required by international journals and books."6 Over the last twenty years the Journal of Sport History and the International Journal of the History of Sport have exposed their readers to the history of sport in South America and Brazil through the works of Joseph Arbena (Clemson University),7 Cesar Torres (State University of New York, Brockport),8 Claudia Guedes (San Francisco State University),9 and Da Costa (University Gama Filho, Brazil).10 Nonetheless the paucity of English-language articles, and certainly monographs, especially from Brazil-based historians of sport, appears to confirm Da Costa's caveat.11

But is an absence of readily accessible Brazilian sport history really "regrettable"? The notion of regret implies a liberal utilitarian interest in the greater subdiscipline of sport history and an equal concern for all its elements even as the field inexorably expands and splinters into increasingly smaller themes and narrower subjects. According to this notion, every historian of sport is just one in the subdiscipline and from the perspective of the latter as a whole every individual's interests has equal value. The problem in this logic is that it ignores the personal affective/emotional conditions in which we work as individual professionals, conditions that, in the main, connect us to specific national contexts (e.g., Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, United States of America) and specific themes (e.g., baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, swimming). In and of themselves each of these subjects is rich enough to yield a continuous supply of fresh historical questions, abundant primary historical material, responsive (critical and flattering) readers, and, of course, prosperous careers. Historians of sport whose primary interest is, say, the sporting history of France, the history of baseball, or the history of sporting monuments are not affectively/emotionally, or necessarily, connected to every national history whether of Brazil or the individual nations of Central Europe, East Asia, West Africa, or Oceania about which we learn precious little from mainstream English-language sport history journals. In short, the broad subdiscipline of sport history is mostly irrelevant to the daily practices of individual sport historians that are framed by affective/emotional conditions. Indeed, my connection to sport history in Brazil arose purely fortuitously: in 2010 Victor Melo and Rafael Fortes invited me to lead a workshop at their Sport Laboratory based in the Institute of History at the Federal University of Rio De Janeiro.12

On the other hand, the epistemologically provisional nature of history (i.e., no single historical approach/method will ever produce a definitive conclusion about the past where, almost invariably, historians...


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pp. 371-376
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