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  • Amateur Musical Societies and Sports Clubs in Provincial France, 1848–1914: Harmony and Hostility by Alan R. H. Baker
  • Lydia Furse
Baker, Alan R. H. Amateur Musical Societies and Sports Clubs in Provincial France, 1848–1914: Harmony and Hostility. Cambridge: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Pp. xi+350. Four b/w illustrations, eleven illustrations in color, and index. $109.99, hb. $84.99, eb.

This book brings together two seemingly separate subjects, musical societies and sports clubs, in an innovative examination of French sociability from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the First World War. As Alan Baker proves, the two subjects go hand in hand in this “historical cultural geography” of sociability (3).

This book builds on the author’s previous research on work-related associations in the Loire Valley in the nineteenth century and covers eleven provincial French départements, selected from both sides of the Saint Malo–Geneva divide. Baker has produced a source book that offers perspectives on the differences and continuities of voluntary associations in greater France, which has hitherto been unavailable to scholars. He brings together previously unpublished archival sources to add depth and detail that will be an invaluable resource for future research. Baker notes that “the record offices of French departments constitute rich treasure troves of archives,” which, although challenging resources, have the “potential to provide detailed information” (18). The empirical style means the level of detail can be overwhelming within the text itself, but the clear infographics bring the information to life (34–37, 173–76, 180, 200).

The first chapter provides a thorough literature review that clearly identifies the gap this work aims to fill, in both the fields of musical history and sports history. Baker’s work is the first to combine these two subject areas, and he employs Maurice Agulhon’s theory of “sociability,” which takes account of a range of interactive social activity among individuals at an intermediate scale, between the family and state (1). While many historians employ music and sports as reflections of contemporary political, religious, medical, and militaristic ideologies, Baker re-examines them as clubs, societies, and semiformal gatherings of the community to highlight the living reality of the third French ideal, fraternité.

There are two central chapters, each covering one of the titular subjects in detail and following the same overall structure, which is helpful for comparison. Each chapter could stand alone, so readers from music history or sports history fields will find this volume equally informative. The empirical nature of the book means that these chapters can be used as a text book, and, with an extensive index, researchers can easily navigate the heavily detailed text. Baker blends sources from the various archives to support his central argument, which is that “the development of some leisure-based voluntary associations was a practical expression of ‘fraternity’” (292).

The third chapter, “Sports Clubs,” is particularly useful for historians of cycling, angling, pigeon racing, and shooting, with some information relating to gymnastic or team sports such as rugby and football. As a cultural geographer, Baker considers the external influences on the development of sports societies, which he states occurred mostly in cities and towns. His description of pigeon racing in northern France, for example, highlights the Belgian [End Page 354] immigrant population in the area, and its significance as a sport with militaristic undertones in an area within proximity of the German border, following defeat in the Prussian war, as credible reasons for the popularity of pigeon racing in this region (183). Baker also briefly considers the question of gender within the voluntary associations, which he describes as “melting pots of masculinity, bringing together males of different ages, occupations and class” (221).

The final chapter serves as a conclusion and highlights areas for future research, including comparative international studies, although Baker argues that the development of voluntary associations, as an expression of fraternité within the communities, was a result of France’s revolutionary history. Baker convincingly uses the concept of “sociability” throughout this study, emphasizing the individuals who participated in or founded these societies, while analyzing the latent or manifest purposes behind their formation. Amateur Musical Societies and Sports Clubs in Provincial France...


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pp. 354-355
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