With its heroes and hustlers, its victors and victims, its stars and spectators, sport was, is, and will remain undeniably popular and significant. Ancient and modern civilizations share what amounts to an obsession with physical contests and public performances, but what is “sport” and how can it be studied and understood historically? This course will examine the prominence, variety, cultural distinctiveness and functions of sports (and spectacles) in ancient and modern societies.
The game will be played as follows:
The first half of term will focus on the Ancient World, from pre-history to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, with a special emphasis on Greek culture and Roman spectacles. But the phenomenon of ancient sports and spectacles – the Greek Olympics, the shocking violence of the Colosseum games – will not be approached as isolated pastimes but as essential elements in social, political and religious life. Sport will be used as an historical window into human nature, cultures, and periods.
Likewise, in the second half of term we will cover sport in the 20th century: from the humble origins of the modern Olympics in 1896 through the use of the games and sport in general as a political-social platform during Fascism and Nazism, Communism and the Cold War, up to the most relevant social issues reflected by sport in our present time. We will explore the connections between sport and global political, social and cultural power relations. Case studies will include, in addition to the Olympics, the World Cup, the significance and potential of soccer in both Europe and the USA, the interplay of race and sport and the issues of gender and sport. Students will be also given the opportunity to focus on events unique to American sport culture by investigating the use of sports and sporting events as a public stage to perform dramas of social change, and reporting the results of their critical analysis in a class presentation.
Class lectures (all power-point based) and discussions will be interactive, engaging and complemented by documentaries/film screenings. We will visit the National Soccer Museum, a couple of miles from the center of the city and we will attend a professional game of the local soccer team, Fiorentina, which is playing at the top level of the professional Italian soccer series (Serie A).
At the conclusion of the course, students should be able to:
– Describe the chronology and the context of significant events in the history of sport;
– Evaluate the history of sport as a means of reflecting and assessing the human experience;
– Understand and read about sports as a representation of many of the historical and contemporary political, economic and cultural power relationships and conflicts that frame our world;
– Critically analyze and evaluate sports from a sociological perspective;
– Compare European and American sport culture, highlighting intercultural differences;
– Improve their ability to perform critical and constructive thinking, thereby developing thought-provoking attitudes of inquiry and investigation;
During orientation at the Institute, students will receive a list of textbooks and/or course readers they are required to purchase. Students should not purchase any texts before orientation.
Course descriptions may be subject to occasional minor modifications at the discretion of the instructor.