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Reviewed by:
  • American National Pastimes—A History ed. by Mark Dyreson, Jaime Schultz
  • William M. Simons
Dyreson, Mark, and Jaime Schultz, eds. American National Pastimes—A History. London and New York: Routledge, 2015. Pp. xix + 284. Notes, bibliographies, index. $145.00,hc.

Coeditors Mark Dyreson and Jaime Schultz draw from the work of fellow sport scholars to fashion a collection of fourteen essays examining American National Pastimes. The essays, previously published in the International Journal of the History of Sport, are individually introduced by brief abstracts. The book identifies those U.S. sports, past and present, that have attained the status of national pastime and examines the evolution of those activities within a larger cultural context. Dyreson and Schultz apply the concept of national pastime to popular, enduring sports that reflect and mold American national character. Unlike some countries that grant the title “national pastime” by legislative edict, the editors emphasize that the American construct is cultural.

Contextualizing cycles of rise and eclipse against shifts in the American zeitgeist, several essays, in turn, make chapter-length arguments for a particular sport—horse racing, hunting, boxing, football, and basketball—achieving, at least for a time, recognition as a national pastime. Terming baseball’s proclaimed democratic narrative of inclusion a cultural fiction that obscures its marginalization of racial/ethnic minorities and women, Daniel Nathan, in his revisionist article, questions whether the game has ever merited designation as the American national pastime. Cutting across the boundaries of specific sports, another series of essays also considers the relationship of women and African Americans—as well as the law—to American national pastimes. Chapter 14 offers an eclectic concluding potpourri that, as suggested by its expansive title—“A Brief Taxonomy of Sports That Were Not Quite American National Pastimes: Fads and Flashes-in-the Pan, Nationwide and Regional Pastimes, the Pastimes of Others Nations, and Pan-National Pastimes”—limns local, transitory, shared, and/or international games that fall short of the book’s criteria. We learn, for example, that miniature golf “briefly captured the fancy of the nation” (253) before finding a lesser, albeit firm, niche among American games.

The volume’s coda appears in its penultimate essay, “National Sporting Pastimes, Spectacles of Sporting Otherness and American Imaginings, 1880–1920” by David Andrews, Jacob Bustad, and Samuel Clevenger. Although circumscribed by chronology and content, their essay argues that the 1880–1920 period witnessed the birth of the modern United States, a new American identity, and national pastimes. Contextualizing these creations amid the passing of the frontier, immigration, urbanization, industrialization, social conflict, and imperialism, Andrews, Bustad, and Clevenger employ Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West shows, Albert Spalding’s baseball promotions, and a magazine article, “The Geography of Games,” to make their case. Cody’s mythologized, traveling extravaganza depicted AngloAmerican civilization triumphing over savage Indians with whites gaining courage and physical skills through the struggle; these were needed attributes in a Darwinian world, ones that Teddy Roosevelt and others believed that sport might, with the end of western conflict, inculcate. Through his publications, the 1888–89 “World Tour,” [End Page 116] and promulgation of the Doubleday genesis myth, Spalding, baseball pitcher, executive, and equipment manufacturer, made his game the national pastime and an instrument of cultural imperialism. As for the pursuits of other peoples, J. R. Hildebrand’s 1919 National Geographic commentary and photographs dismissed them as inferior. Andrews, Bustad, and Clevenger contend that the span 1880–1920 was the formative period for new and defining constructs: an American exceptionalism rooted in claims of superiority; a national self-image trumpeting the primacy of “youthful, rugged, creative and dynamic” (227) native-born white males, particularly those from the comfortable classes; and print media’s touting of emergent national pastimes as the exemplar of the preceding.

American National Pastimes is an impressive academic work. To engage a larger audience, however, the editors might recast occasional repetitious and turgid writing, include photographs and graphs, and consolidate the overlapping list of references that follow each essay to create a comprehensive bibliography, particularly since detailed endnotes already identify chapter sources. Not all of the sports covered possess the depth or duration of support to qualify as national pastimes. Although the observations...


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