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Reviewed by:
  • The Routledge History of American Sport ed. by Linda J. Borish, David K. Wiggins, and Gerald R. Gems
  • Wray Vamplew
Borish, Linda J., David K. Wiggins, and Gerald R. Gems, eds. The Routledge History of American Sport. New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xviii + 466. Notes and index. $250, hb. $57.95, eb.

This is a welcome addition to the growing sport history catalogue from Routledge. The editors are experienced researchers in various fields of American sport history, although only Gems is also a contributing author. The contributors themselves are drawn from across the academic spectrum, blending youthful enthusiasm with experienced scholarship and enlisting authors from a variety of disciplines. From the biographies provided, it is gratifying to see those who, when the reviewer first came across them, were young thrusters now moving up the academic ladder. This does suggest that, despite the many forebodings to the contrary, practicing sport history has not been a barrier to promotion of able individuals.

The book is divided into eight sections, each dealing with a theme deemed to be an important relationship between sport and wider American society and its culture. The editors briefly mention the content of each section in their overall introduction, but certainly the volume would have benefitted from an editorial introduction to each section outlining not just what the respective authors covered but also what was not discussed. Such guidance would be useful to the undergraduate readership that is one target audience.

The book starts by looking at perspectives and prospects of American sport history, considering theory and methods, new research directions, and, a rarity these days, a survey [End Page 405] and a discussion on the teaching of sport history. Fittingly, this leads on to a section on sport and education but, unfortunately, a patchy one. One chapter deals only with the Progressive Era, and, while that on youth sport is not so time-limited, it is not made relevant to the education theme. The chapter on high schools is more satisfying, as is the one dealing with a major case of American sporting exceptionalism, that of higher-educational institutions venturing into the world of sports entertainment, earning millions but claiming that that their exploited student athletes are but amateurs.

Section 3 turns to race and ethnicity, and, after a chapter on Native American sports, it has seven chapters devoted to different racial/ethnic groups. This is where an introduction or, better still, a conclusion could have helped the reader identify what was similar and different in their experiences. Section 4 considers gender, which has been a critical factor in the American sporting experience. For many years, it was implicit that sport was a male pursuit, and sports historians tended to examine masculinity in terms of the social engineering of the private school or on-field violence by participants. A few decades ago, as women's history came to prominence, discussions of gender tended to be dominated by the role of females in sport, focusing either on the obstacles they had to overcome or the pioneering efforts of those who broke through the athletic glass ceiling. Academic culture has changed once again, reflecting events in wider society, and this volume gives due recognition not just to women in sport, and to masculinity, but also to sexuality.

Section 5 deals with the business of sport. Four chapters are obviously mainstream topics—television and the media, professional sports, labor relations in baseball, and sport in American film—but a fifth on women's participation in sports tourism comes somewhat out of left field. Material culture is a misnomer for Section 6 as, although it looks at sites of sport (an excellent analysis of public space, stadiums, and country clubs) and also the technical apparatus of weight-lifting, the chapter on sport training, sport science, and technology covers doping and sex-testing. The next section is also mistitled. It claims to look at social movements and political uses of sport, but it is hard to see how chapters on American Olympic narratives, military sport, and the Cold War encompass social movements. Surely, here should have been material relating to civil rights and environmental protest. The concluding section focuses on sport...


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pp. 405-406
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