HIST 4806B: Sports and Spectacle from Antiquity to the Present
Fall 2023

Instructor: Professor Matthew J. Bellamy 


In this course we will critically analyze the development of sport from antiquity to the world in which we now live, where organized games are big business and an integral part of mass culture. As the Boston Celtic basketball player, Bob Cousy, once stated: “Sport creates a bond between contemporaries that lasts a lifetime” and our sports idols are the source of intrigue and inspiration. In this course we consider how and why this is so and whether this has always been the case. How do the sports that we have play satisfied the human instinct for movement and competition and how have they reflected the economic base?  How did sport mirror and sometimes shape much wider political and socio-economic processes? What does the evolution of sports tell us about imperialism and nationalism as well as class, gender, and ethic identities? How and when has sport been the site of racism and resistance? These are just some of the questions we will consider during the course.

Class Format

Each week we will meet to discuss a clearly defined theme in the history of sport. Such themes will include: the Olympics, indigenous games, sports entrepreneurship, doping, and the evolution of professional ice hockey, baseball, tennis, football, boxing and a number of other modern sports. We will also examine the personal and professional lives of some of the world’s greatest athletes, from Spartacus to Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams.


You will be expected to do the assigned readings and to contribute to the weekly discussions. During the course we will be reading a series of historical works. Students will be asked to discuss the material and (at the end of term) write their own 15-20 page paper on some aspect of the history of sport. The papers should reflect a solid grasp of the existing historiography on that topic and should involve some amount of primary research.

Learning Outcomes

  1. To understand and explain the evolution of the sport from antiquity to the present.
  2. To analyze and assess historical documents, artifacts, and other primary sources.
  3. To evaluate historical arguments and historical scholarship.
  4. To conduct independent research using primary and secondary sources.
  5. To express in writing the results of historical thinking and research.

I look forward to exploring this exciting topic with you. If any further information is requested, please do not hesitate to contact me at Matthew_Bellamy@Carleton.ca.