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Seminar 8: Exercise, Sport and Health (Media Watch: Health, Fitness and Obesity)

This week we will explore the relationship between exercise, sport and health. Encouraging exercise and the adoption of healthy practices stretched back to the mid-nineteenth century and became enmeshed in concerns about Empire, race and nation at the turn of the twentieth century. Such concerns have revived in new forms in recent years – notably around the problem of increasing obesity, notably in children, and the associated costs to the state in terms of unfilled potential and health risks. In the run up to this week’s seminar, I ask you to pay particular attention to discussions on this theme in the media to to bring in any interesting news items to the seminar.

1. How did practices of health and physical culture become embedded in concerns of nation and Empire around 1900?
2. How did exercise and sport impinge and enhance the lives of men and women from the Victorian period onwards?
3. What role do you believe the state has in regulating the health of its citizens?
4. Why was sport thought to be good for making boys into men?


Seminar Reading:

Please read at least two of the following items plus the primary sources:

Ina Zweiniger-Bargelowska, ‘Raising a Nation of “Good Animals”: The New Health Society and Health Education Campaigns in Interwar Britain’, Social History of Medicine, 20 (2007), 73-89. e-resource Oxford journals

Jill Matthews, ‘They had Such a Lot of Fun: The Women’s League of Health and Beauty between the Wars’, History Workshop Journal, 30 (1990), 22-54. e-resource JISC

Chris Shilling, The Body in Culture, Technology and Society (London: Sage, 2005), ch. 7 ‘Sporting Bodies’. e-book

John Welshman, 'Physical Culture and Sport in Schools in England and Wales, 1900-40', International Journal of the Hisotry of Sport, vol.15: no I (April, 1998), 54-75. e-resource Taylor & Francis This journal contains many good articles on the history of sport and specific sporting activities.

Primary Sources

Arthur Edmond Tanner, Physical Cultre for Men, Women and Children (London, 1894). Talis Aspire or via Wellcome Library (online source)

Search 'Eugen Sandow' or 'Physical Culture' on e.g. Wellcome Images. Please bring in any interesting images that you find!

Additional Reading:

Bruce Haley, The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1978).

Jennifer Hargreaves, Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’s Sports (London: Routledge, 1994).

Vanessa Heggie, A History of British Sports Medicine (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011).

Vanessa Heggie, ‘A Century of Cardiomythology: Exercise and the Heart c.1880-1980’, Social History of Medicine, 23 (2010), 280-98. e-resource Oxford journals

Catherine Horwood, ‘“Girls Who Arouse Dangerous Passions”: Women and Bathing, 1900-39’, Women’s History Review, 9 (2000), 653-73. e-resource Taylor & Francis

Richard Holt, Sport and the British: A Modern History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

J.A. Magnan, Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Kathleen E. McCrone, ‘Play Up! Play Up! And Play the Game! Sport at the Late Victorian Girls’ Public School’, Journal of British Studies, 23 (1984), 106-34. e-resource JSTOR

Kathleen E. McCrone, Sport and the Physical Emancipation of English Women 1870-1914 (London: Routledge, 1988).

Hilary Marland, Health and Girlhood in Britain, 1874-1920 (Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013), esp. ch. 3. e-book

Erik Neilson, Sport and the British World, 1900-1930 (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014). e-book

Thomas Turner, 'The Production and Consumption of Lawn-Tennis Shoes in Late-Victorian Britain', Journal of British Studies, 55:3 (2016), 474-500.

John Welshman, ‘Child Health, National Fitness, and Physical Education in Britain, 1900-1940’, in Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Hilary Marland (eds), eds), Cultures of Child Health in Britain and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century (London and New York: Rodopi, 2003), 61-84.

Ina Zweiniger-Bargelowska, Managing the Body: Beauty, Health and Fitness in Britain, 1880-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, ‘The Culture of the Abdomen: Obesity and Reducing in Britain, circa 1900-1939’, Journal of British Studies, 44 (2005), 239-73. e-resource JSTOR

Essay Questions

Why was sport thought to be good for changing boys into men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

In the twentieth century has exercise been more about beauty or health?

Why and in what ways did attitudes towards female exercise change in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?