Sports in North America: A Documentry History/Volume 4 Sports in War, Revival and Expansion/1860-1880

By Noverr, Douglas A | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Sports in North America: A Documentry History/Volume 4 Sports in War, Revival and Expansion/1860-1880


Noverr, Douglas A, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Sports in North America: A Documentary History/Volume 4 Sports in War, Revival and Expansion/1860-1880. George B. Kirsch. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1995. 390 pp. $72 per volume.

This volume of 104 primary historical documents covers perhaps the most critical period in the evolution of American sports. As editor Kirsch notes, the twenty year period from 1860 to 1880 saw the rapid proliferation of sporting activities and a major transformation of the basic characteristics of sports as they underwent early modernization, standardization, and commercialization. Amateurism in private club sports and in intercollegiate athletics flourished, and professionalism became an established feature with the formation of regional and national leagues. Any remaining doubts about the values or negative effects of sports were pushed aside by the "muscular Christianity" movement and the promotion of sports as healthful and socially beneficial. Local and regional variations in rules and regulations were given up in favor of standardization and consideration of increased competition and ways of measuring and recording performance. Competition became interregional, intercity, national, international, and transatlantic as individuals and teams from the United States, Canada, and the countries of The British Isles engaged in contests and games. Thus, sports stimulated nationalism in the period.

The readings that George B. Kirsch has gathered illustrate and document these large developments in rich detail. The sources are drawn from mass circulation newspapers (over one half of the total), sporting periodicals, early histories of individual sports, sports manuals and instructional handbooks, organizational documents (constitutions, bylaws, rules of play and regulations), organizational reports, autobiographies, and even archival records. Kirsch provides an excellent overall introduction and introductions for each of the seventeen sections. The first section deals with the cultural issues of religion and sports, the debate over the proper role of women and girls in physical fitness and sports, and the difficult problem of distinguishing between amateurism and professionalism. The remaining sixteen chapters either deal with individual sports (baseball, bicycling, boxing, cricket, croquet, football, etc.) or with more generic and inclusive rubics like aquatics (including rowing, swimming, yachting) or pub sports (including billiards, bowling, quoits). Some major developments of this period are not documented. These include roller skating and the building of roller rinks, mountain climbing, dog shows, and coaching or coach driving competitions. Polo receives only a brief discussion. …

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