HIST 1901A: An Introduction to the History of Sport, from Antiquity to the Present
Winter 2025

Instructor: Professor Matthew J. Bellamy


Perhaps no other activity lends itself more powerfully to a global history than sport. But what is sport and why has the urge to run, jump, wrestle or move a ball individually or collectively been part of human culture for so long? Today, sport is big business and the focus of a vast amount of media and cultural attention. And why not? As the Boston Celtic basketball player, Bob Cousy, once stated: “Sport creates a bond between contemporaries that lasts a lifetime.” Our sports idols are the source of intrigue and inspiration. The games that they and we play satisfy the human instinct for movement and competition.

This course critically analyzes the development of sport from antiquity to the world in which we now live, where organized games are an integral part of mass culture and everyday life. How did sport reflect and sometimes shape much wider political and socio-economic processes? What does the evolution of sports tell us about identities – be they personal, regional or national – as well as class, gender, and race?

The focus of this course will be on change and continuity in sport, from ancient times to the present. Topics to be studied include the Olympics, indigenous games, medieval athletic activities, doping, and the evolution of professional ice hockey, baseball, tennis, football, 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 Milo of Croton to Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams.

Learning Objectives

  1. To gain a factual understanding of the historical development of sports from antiquity to the present.
  2. To examine the concept of sports as a reflection of the political-economic system, both domestic and international.
  3. To categorize the major socioeconomic categories—ethics, race, gender, class, and culture—and their relationship to sports.
  4. To examine the relevance of major sporting events and sport personalities within the context of human history.
  5. To critical assess the effect of technology and drugs on sports.
  6. To evaluate historical arguments and historical scholarship.
  7. To learn how to give historical, deconstructive “readings” of sport’s films.
  8. To express in writing the results of historical thinking and research

Your mark in the course will be made up of a few assignments and a final exam.

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