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  • Introduction
  • Daniel A. Nathan

Erudite, witty, and a polymath fluent in several languages, Allen Guttmann is sui generis, a sport history and intellectual giant. Professor Emeritus of English and American studies at Amherst College, one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country, Guttmann has been studying and writing about sport history for forty-plus years.1 His eleven sport history books and innumerable articles cover a wide array of subjects and have been critically acclaimed (and sometimes hotly critiqued, which comes with the territory).

Due to his empirical rigor, rhetorical gracefulness, and intellectual zeal, Guttmann’s contributions to and impact on sport history are singular and beyond impressive.2 For many of us, the publication of From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (1978) marks a watershed. It was not, of course, the first serious or scholarly book about sport. Yet its cogency, transhistorical range, and sophistication convinced many readers that sport was a subject that should be taken seriously. The book had and has its critics, to be sure.3 Still, all these years later, it should not be ignored or underappreciated, even if one does not embrace Weberian modernization theory. In its preface, Guttmann succinctly notes, “I have sought to clarify, to explain, and to interpret.”4 This seems to have been his professional raison d’être.

The raison d’être of this forum is to reflect on and appreciate some of Allen Guttmann’s scholarly contributions to sport history. It is not exactly a Festschrift, that is, a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar, but it is close. Some of the contributors to this forum (who can speak to different facets of Guttmann’s career, including his teaching and mentoring) have publically disagreed with him in the past. At least one of those disagreements is revisited here. Yet all of the contributors greatly respect and appreciate Allen [End Page 50] Guttmann’s work: its craftsmanship, thoroughness, originality, and durability. My hope is that readers of this forum will do likewise.

Daniel A. Nathan
Department of American Studies Skidmore College
All correspondence to


1. Guttmann was hired at Amherst on a contingent basis in 1959. His former graduate-school mentor, Leo Marx, hired Guttmann and promptly told him, “Don’t even dream of staying beyond five years.” Guttmann retired from Amherst in 2013. For more on Guttmann’s biography, see “My Life: Allen Guttmann, Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of English and American Studies,” Amherst Magazine, Winter 2010, [accessed 21 June 2016].

2. It is worth noting that before he turned his scholarly attention to sport Guttmann had written three books and was a recipient of a Carnegie Fellowship, the Norman Foerster Prize, and a Fulbright lectureship. Since then, Guttmann has had an illustrious career with the North American Society for Sports History (NASSH). He gave the Seward Staley Address in 1980 and won the NASSH Book Award twice: for Women’s Sports: A History (1991) and Sports: The First Five Millennia (2004). He was also NASSH president (2001–3) and won the NASSH Recognition Award for service to sport history in 2010.

3. See, for example, John M. Carter and Arnd Krüger, Ritual and Record: Sports Records and Quantification in Pre-Modern Societies (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), and the afterword to the revised 2004 edition of Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).

4. Guttmann, From Ritual to Record, viii. [End Page 51]



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