Freshman Seminar 49Y, Spring 2018
Amateur Athletics
Research Paper

A research paper of around 10 pages (not counting any endnotes and bibliography) will be due Tuesday, May 1 (the next to last day of Reading Period). Each student will give a 20 minute presentation at one of the last class meetings, April 16 or 23. A proposal will be due on Friday, March 9 (the day before spring break), and an outline or first draft, with a list of sources, on April 2.

A good paper need be no longer than 10 pages. If you go over 15, you’ll improve the paper by cutting it down. The page limit is enough to report on some interesting facts I didn’t already know, which should be your primary objective, and also perhaps to give a succinct argument for your point of view on something, based on the facts you’ve uncovered.

What I don’t want is B.S. You don’t need any grand, empty language, or any recitation of common knowledge and conventional wisdom. A good paper for this course will be of quite narrow scope and will be based in some historical facts. For example, don’t write about religion in sports; write about the way some particular figure or figures were influenced by some institution or individual. One reason we read so much history up front in this course is that the books you’ve read contain hundreds of loose ends you can chase down further. You’ve got some raw material to work with. I list a few suggestions below.

Papers do not have to be historical, but it’s pretty risky to write on something that doesn’t require original research at all. I want something that is related in a serious way to the themes we’ve been discussing: competition and its limits and consequences; social class dimensions of athletics; the role of money; equity and “level playing field” ideals; etc. I don’t want, for example, a biography of some sports figure, though a slice through a person’s life exploring one of our themes can work.

A good paper is not a mixture of journalism and opinion writing. It is an analysis of some concrete, objective facts. So if the facts aren’t historical, then they would have to be contemporary financial or sociological data, which may be harder to come by, though I can try to connect you to people who may know about this or that.

You can get some ideas about Harvard-related topics by searching the Harvard presidents’ reports, or reading old issues of the Crimson or of Harvard alumni magazines. Publications such as Harpers had a lot of sports writing are available online. The Harvard Archives are very nice to undergraduates and would be glad to help you look for things and fill out the necessary paperwork. I want this to be fun, but I also want it to be both serious and educational.

Some of the best papers were written by students who just noticed a name mentioned in one of our readings and drilled down on it.

Don’t hesitate to email me with half baked ideas to see if I can help "cook" them. 

Some paper topic ideas. These are just ideas -- please come up with your own!

Dudley Allen Sargent. Eliot’s chief athletic officer, he was intensely devoted to physical fitness and intensely anti-competitive. (BU’s college of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences is named after him.) His racial theories were backed up by sober “scientific” statistics. Who was he, and where did all this come from? Sources: Sargent’s Physical education, 1906; Harvard Graduates Magazine articles in December, 1894 and June, 1908. Archives had pulled for us a remarkable speech he gave at the dedication of Wheaton College's gym, on why competition was bad for women. See also Kim Townsend’s Manhood at Harvard.

Caspar Whitney. The leading sportswriter of the late nineteenth century in America. He was born in Boston and claimed to have been admitted to Harvard but went to college in California. (It may be true, but then as now, a lot of people who claim to have turned Harvard down were never admitted.) He advocated class separation in athletics with eloquence and without apology. Where did he get this attitude and did anyone push back against him? Sources: Whitney’s A Sporting Pilgrimage; Whitney’s “Amateur Sport” columns in Harper’s Weekly, available online through the Harvard Library, e.g. December 5, 1896, but this was a regular feature. Track down his obituary and see if you can figure out anything about his life.

The Harvard Athletic Policy Committee, under its various names. Did it listen to students? To alumni? Were its early restrictive measures sensible or pointless? The minutes are in University Archives, in Pusey Library. Just go read them and you will come up with some paper ideas. Some of its reports were also published, e.g. in January, 1893 Harvard Graduates Magazine, though such official publications have to be read with a degree of skepticism and made to square with Crimson accounts of the same controversies.

The 1929 Carnegie Foundation report on college athletics: College Athletics, by Howard J. Savage. Of what sins were Harvard, Princeton, Yale said to be guilty and what were they said to be doing right? Did the report get any reaction in the Crimson, in official Harvard reports or committees, or in the Boston press? Did anything important happen afterwards? Whose idea was it to take on the task of reforming college athletics through such a study in the first place?

Bill Reid, Harvard’s first football coach. His diary was published: Ronald A. Smith, ed., Big-Time Football at Harvard 1905. Try to find out more about how he was seen at Harvard and in Boston – as a hero or as a symbol of athletic excess. If anyone wants to take this one up, I can put you in touch with some alumni who remember Reid personally.

Sports at Harvard before 1850. What kinds of games did students play and how did the faculty and clergy regard them? How old was the sort of sport-as-hazing that led to the banning of football in 1860? There are some interesting quotations from primary sources in Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America, 1997 – the original documents for some of these are probably in Harvard Archives. (There are several volumes in that series with different editors.) The early presidents’ reports have some hints on this subject, but the earliest is for 1825-26.

Sports and religion in New England. T. W. Higginson, Saints and their bodies is the root. (Or is it? That is the conventional wisdom.) But there is much more to this story. See Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity, 2001, and T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace, 1981. Is there any connection between all that and today’s Fellowships of Christian Athletes as exist at Harvard and on other campuses?

Avery Brundage. Young tells the story of Brundage’s rise to prominence in the Olympic movement. Trace back some of the sources Young cites to try to understand Brundage’s motivations and prejudices. Brundage’s handling of the Jim Thorpe affair alone would probably be a story retold too often to be good material for a paper, but it is part of the story.

Professionalism as vulgar and generalism as noble. This is a less specific topic, and would need to be narrowed, but I am struck by the passage about athletics by Mahaffy quoted on the top of p. 48 of Young (“… far higher and more varied recreation … the city athlete whose special training has a necessary tendency to lower him into a professional”). Why is specialization bad and being a generalist good, and what does this have to do with Harvard’s Gen Ed requirements? For the philosophically inclined, there is some larger lesson here about amateurism. I can probably suggest some social histories that may be relevant.

Sports and the U.S. presidents. I wrote in EWAS about the crossroads on which Theodore Roosevelt stood – the archetype of the rugged man as president, and also an icon of aristocratic nobility in his view of sport. He tried to dictate college athletic policy from the White House. Go backwards and forwards in time and identify the role athletic imagery or achievement has played in presidential campaigns or administrations. Gerald Ford was a football player, for example – did that figure into his political imagery? In 2004, John Kerry was sunk in part by a photo of him on a sailboard in the middle of the presidential campaign. Obama’s athleticism probably worked to his advantage in the 2008 election; there was lots of basketball in the campaign, more than you would see in any election in any foreign country. Why have presidential candidates and presidents played up or down their athleticism? Are there any traces of this before TR?

Origins of particular college sports. The origins of intercollegiate rowing have been documented exhaustively (Thomas Mendenhall, The Harvard-Yale Boat Race, 1852-1924). Pick another (Radcliffe rowing?) and try to uncover the earliest roots. Did the sport arise from native sources in America or by importation from England? In either case, how and when did it make the grade as an acceptable diversion for students at the likes of Harvard? Were they strictly student activities or were they something in which the faculty might participate? The H Book of Harvard Athletics 1852-1922 can give some information, but is unreliable as history.

On anything involving Radcliffe, the Schlesigner library in the Radcliffe Yard has the archives corresponding to what Harvard Archives in Pusey holds for Harvard.

Origins of the Ivy League. Who started the movement to carve out a special place for the eight Ivy League colleges in 1954? Did the movement meet alumni or student resistance, and why or why not?