- Heritage and Sport: An Introduction by Gregory Ramshaw
Sport is not often the focus of heritage analysis, even though sport history inspires a range of social, cultural, and economic initiatives. Gregory Ramshaw's Heritage and Sport: An Introduction provides a comprehensive overview of the subject, drawing on examples from Great Britain, Europe, Canada, the United States, and Australia. Ramshaw shows that sport heritage is used widely to promote nostalgia, connect everyday people to history, and sell places, spaces, and even tickets for contemporary matches.
Heritage, Ramshaw argues, is about how history is used in the present. Heritage and Sport is organized around a four-point typology to explore distinct aspects of its core subjects: (i) tangible immovable sport heritage such as venues and monuments; (ii) tangible movable sport heritage such as objects held in museums and heritage events; (iii) intangible sport heritage including rituals, as well as existential and emotional relationships to sport; and (iv) goods and services with a sport-heritage component like tourism and heritage branding. Within each category of the typology, there is significant overlap: sport heritage is rarely just one thing. Across these categories, several themes emerge that help us understand sport heritage as a distinct area of analysis within the fields of sport history and heritage studies: preservation, commodification, and dissonance.
Preserving the past is a costly, time-consuming, and ultimately subjective undertaking, which Ramshaw unpacks in the first part of the book. Tangible immovable sport heritage like arenas and baseball fields are rarely designated as historic sites because of their size. Exceptions exist, like Boston's Fenway Park, which is both heritage site and working stadium. More often, however, immovable heritage is redeveloped into multipurpose spaces, as was the case with Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. Equally challenging is the question of what to preserve. Ramshaw observes that sports-heritage preservation has tended toward the celebratory. Great goals, wins, and players have been preserved in monuments, and material cultural associated with these special moments is now displayed in museums; but histories on racism and sexism occupy an uncertain place in the field.
More so than other aspects of history, sports heritage is popular in tourism promotion, marketing, branding, and public events. Whether the heritage is tangible or intangible, this book shows how the past is often incorporated into contemporary sport branding. Sometimes the role of heritage is subtle, such as the incorporation of historic elements in baseball fields or use of imagery on tickets or social media. At other times, heritage becomes part of the raison d'être of an event, such as with the "heritage classic" outdoor hockey games, produced by the NHL since 2003. Sports heritage has proven to be highly marketable to general audiences and has become a popular tool in the branding of apparel, bars, and professional sports teams.
Marketing imagines and reimagines the past that may not always sit comfortably with historians or the public if the interpretation glosses over difficult topics. Tangible movable and immovable sports-heritage sites have not always done a good job of representing sports' complex histories. Focusing on the winners and professional sport has led to silences about [End Page 87] the past that are no longer acceptable. Ramshaw argues this is changing and suggests that sites like the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, have succeeded by becoming more inclusive. It is a topic that could have been explored in greater depth in the book. In the past decade, heritage sites like the District Six Museum in South Africa, brands like Nike, and professional leagues have begun to use dissonance in their projects and marketing, drawing attention to histories of racism and sexism. It would be interesting to consider what strategies are effective in addressing difficult histories.
Regardless of its approach, sport heritage shares with other forms of public history a need to attract audiences and engage the public in thinking about the past. Sales is part of all heritage promotion—whether for education or money. Ramshaw shows that the appeal of sport heritage is often...