David K. Wiggins and Daniel S. Mason
In 1974 Marvin H. Eyler, one of the founders of the academic subdiscipline of sport history and long-time Dean of what is now the University of Maryland's College of Health and Human Performance, published an article in the inaugural issue οι Úít Journal of Sport History titled “Objectivity and Selectivity in Historical Inquiry” (Eyler, 1974). The article, which appeared alongside three others written by well-known sport historians David Voigt, Eugene Murdock and Steven Riess, discusses the problem of communicating truth in historical research. Utilizing the works of historians Sidney Hook, William Von Humboldt and Charles Beard among others, Eyler speculated as to whether truth about the past was ever attainable, if historians could escape personal bias, and if the necessary method of historical reconstruction precluded objectivity. In the end, Eyler contended that “the past can never be precisely replicated,” but must be “reconstructed on the basis of evidence which has been selected from pre-suppositions” (1974: 45). Furthermore, he noted that history uses a “different standard of objectivity,” to science and is concerned with knowledge that is “inferential and indirect” (Eyler, 1974: 45).
According to Berg “historical research attempts to systematically recapture the complex nuances, the people, meanings, events and even ideas of the past that have influenced and shaped the present” (2001: 210–11). Another definition, offered by Burke, is that history is “the study of human societies in the plural, placing the emphasis on the differences between them and also on the changes which have taken place in each one over time” (1992: 2). Quite simply, a history is an account of some event or series of events that has taken place in the past (Berg, 2001). To put historical research within the broader context of this book, perhaps the best way to justify the use of historical methods is through the following statement by Peter Burke: “If we want to understand why social change takes place, it may be a good strategy to begin by examining how it takes place” (1992: 139). Thus the role of the historian is then to uncover the evidence and analyze it in a way that lends new insights into social change over time.
This chapter draws on Eyler's article and subsequent historiographical works to examine the status of sport history as an academic subdiscipline and the major issues and methodological approaches associated with sport history