Sports’ relation to other forms of leisure investigated with an impressive variety of historical methods and sources

Anne Tjønndal
Nord University, Bodø, Norway

Dion Georgiou & Benjamin Litherland (red)
Sport’s Relationship with Other Leisure Industries: Historical Perspectives
345 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018
ISBN 978-0-367-10928-8

Where does sport stop and other leisure, entertainment, or cultural forms start? According to Georgiou and Litherland, the answer to this question is historical. The editors exemplify this further by asking ‘why is dressage an Olympic sport yet hippodramatic horse riding a circus tradition?’ (p. 4). In the book’s introduction, the editors argue that sport historians need to continue their conversations with mainstream historians and with academics from fields such as film studies, art history, and music. The underlying point here is that sport interacts with, influences, and is influenced by, a broad range of leisure and cultural forms. With that background, this book seeks to highlight some of the connections and overlaps between sport and other leisure industries.

Originally published as two issues of the academic journal Sport in History, the book Sport’s Relationship with Other Leisure Industries: Historical Perspectives critically interrogates the shared histories between sport and a variety of other leisure pursuits. Together, the editors, Dr. Dion Georgiou (Teaching Fellow at King’s College London) and Dr. Benjamin Litherland (Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield) have put together an impressive collection of contributions on the economic, cultural, geographic, and political ways sport has interacted with a broad range of leisure forms in different geographical contexts and historical periods.

The book is organized in two parts. The first part focuses on specific sites where interactions between sport and leisure has taken place. The second part focuses on products, imagery, and spectacles, examining the usage of sport as a motif – frequently, but not uniformly, a visual one – included in the offering of other leisure industries, as well as considering sport’s own co-opting of other cultural forms into its own spectacle and experience (p. 5). The editors acknowledge that this is somewhat of an artificial split, and that some of the chapters included in the book could easily be placed in both parts of the book. Additionally, there is no title given to the parts of the book (except the editors referring to them as part one and part two), and the two parts are not described in the table of contents, making it difficult for the reader to distinguish between them at first glance.

The book includes 14 chapters of which the first eight belong to part one. These chapters were originally published as volume 34, issue 2 of Sport in History. The first chapter is the introduction written by the editors themselves. In the second chapter, Angela Schattner examines the development of commercial sport provision in London and Bath between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, in connection with the development of taverns and tourism as local leisure provision. Samantha-Jayne Oldfield is behind the third chapter, which examines the organisation and promotion of pedestrianism in mid-Victorian Manchester. Chapter four, by Matthew L. McDowell, focuses on tourism and the Scottish island of Alisa Craig, illustrating its significance as a provider of granite for curling stones, while simultaneously demonstrating that sport is but one of many leisure activities in the past 300 years of the island’s history.

The book’s 14 chapters range from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century in their collective scope, and they encompass data from Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and India.

Next (chapter five), Eric Levet-Labry and Pierre-Olaf Schut explore the role of members of sporting boards in encouraging tourism along France’s rivers and mountain regions. Levet-Labry and Schut’s work suggests that water sports and mountaineering enthusiasts were responsible for driving improvements to France’s tourism infrastructure up until the First World War. Chapter six by Geraldine Biddle-Perry is a case study of Gamage’s store in Holborn, London. The chapter considers sport’s place within London’s retail districts from 1879 to 1913. In the seventh chapter Brian Joseph Gilley explores the recent fad for vintage cycling that has emerged in Tuscany and its place in a broader local leisure economy that also includes local festivals and traditional dining. The eighth and final chapter of part one is written by Dimitris Liokaftos. It catalogues the world of extreme bodybuilding, focusing on the Mr Olympia competition held in Las Vegas since 1999. Liokaftos analyses the competition’s relationship with the city’s other entertainment industries, such as tourism, clubbing, and expositions.

Part two consists of chapters nine through fourteen. These chapters were first published as volume 35, issue 3 of Sport in History. In chapter nine, Dion Georgiou presents carnival as a concept of historically and geographically specific meaning and focuses on the way it has been applied between the late Victorian and inter-war periods as a name for a broad variety of cultural forms (sporting and non-sporting). Chapter ten by Dave Day examines the lives of two American natationists in the nineteenth century (Cora Beckwith and Clara Beckwith, born Clara Sabean and Cora MacFarland) who appeared regularly on stage and in traveling fairs in America with their swimming feats. Day analyses newspaper advertisements and interviews to demonstrate that both women emphasized their British roots and their connections to the Beckwith swimming dynasty as well as claiming credit for outstanding swimming feats. As Day points out, both women not only appropriated the Beckwith name but they also annexed the Beckwith routines, including endurance floating and ornamental swimming. In chapter 11, Litherland studies the appearance of exhibition football matches at London’s Olympia in 1905-1906. Using Bourdieu’s theory of fields, Litherland argues that such an organisation of football was a continuation of a longer interaction between sport and the stage that was restricted during the coalescence of the sporting and exercise field in the late nineteenth century.

Chapter 12 by Jean Williams explores the confluence of British motor sport, toy car manufacture and leisure during the period from 1919 to 1939. Williams’ contribution shows how by the 1930s the toy pedal car would become the ultimate child’s accessory, with models of racing marques and other leisure vehicles available at a range of price points. The final two chapters of the book address sport’s relationship with film. Ellen Wright’s contribution (chapter 13) considers the depiction of swimmers and swimsuits in American cinema between the 1910s and the 1930s. In chapter 14, Souvik Naha study’s cricket’s place within India’s cinema and television industries from 1913 to 2013.

An impressive feature of Georgiou and Litherland’s book is the variety of historical methods and sources it displays through its chapter contributors. The book’s 14 chapters range from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century in their collective scope, and they encompass data from Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and India. Depending on the reader, this could be interpreted as a strength of the book, or it could come across as somewhat fragmented for a research anthology. In other words, for some scholars and students, reading some of the individual articles/chapters might be more fruitful than reading the 14 chapters combined. Still, in their opening pages, the editors write: “Above all, we hope that it encourages readers to continue to reconsider the boundaries of sport and the boundaries of sports history, and of their own research topics and their approaches to them” (p. 5). In this reader’s opinion, they have accomplished this goal excellently with their work putting together Sport’s Relationship with Other Leisure Industries: Historical Perspectives.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2021

Table of Content

    1. Introduction: Sport’s Relationship with other Leisure Industries: Historical Perspectives
      Dion Georgiou and Benjamin Litherland
    2. For the Recreation of Gentlemen and Other Fit Persons of the Better Sort’: Tennis Courts and Bowling Greens as Early Leisure Venues in Sixteenth- to Eighteenth-Century London and Bath
      Angela Schattner
    3. Running Pedestrianism in Victorian Manchester
      Samantha-Jayne Oldfield
    4. ‘That Little Sugarloaf Island’: Ailsa Craig, Romance, Reality and the Branding of Scottish Sport and Leisure, 1707–2013
      Matthew L. McDowell
    5. Sport and Tourism – An Effective Cooperation: Canoeing and Mountaineering in France before the First World War
      Eric Levet-Labry and Pierre-Olaf Schut
    6. The Rise of ‘The World’s Largest Sport and Athletic Outfitter’: A Study of Gamage’s of Holborn, 1878–1913
      Geraldine Biddle-Perry
    7. Cycling Nostalgia: Authenticity, Tourism and Social Critique in Tuscany
      Brian Joseph Gilley
    8. Professional Bodybuilding and the Business of ‘Extreme’ Bodies: The Mr Olympia Competition in the Context of Las Vegas’s Leisure Industries
      Dimitris Liokaftos
    9. Redefining the Carnivalesque: The Construction of Ritual, Revelry and Spectacle in British Leisure Practices through the Idea and Model of ‘Carnival’, 1870–1939
      Dion Georgiou
    10. From Lambeth to Niagara: Imitation and Innovation among Female Natationists
      Dave Day
    11. Sporting Entertainments, Discarded Possibilities and the Case of Football as a Variety Sport, 1905–1906
      Benjamin Litherland
    12. ‘Tri-ang Strong Toys’: Lines Brothers and British Motor Sport in the Inter-War Period
      Jean Williams
    13. Spectacular Bodies: The Swimsuit, Sexuality and Hollywood
      Ellen Wright
    14. Cricket, Entertainment, Glamour Industry and Promotional Culture in India, 1913–20
      Souvik Naha
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