Monthly Archives: October 2012


I don’t even know why, but I signed up for DigiWriMo — Digital Writing Month — sponsored by the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy and the Marylhurst English and Digital Humanities program. It’s based on the National Writing Month challenge where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m 110% sure I’m not going to accomplish that goal. I’m stating that now for all to see, but I am still participating. I tend to be pretty competitive, so maybe I’ll get close, but that’s not the point of it for me.

If I don’t plan on meeting the goal, then why am I doing, you might ask. Well, I have 3-4 reasons:

  1. I like the folks putting it on and see it as a way to collaborate, network, and learn more about digital humanities and digital writing. Every interaction I have had with them has been rewarding and helped me learn more about this field and re-think teaching, and perhaps now writing.
  2. I need to become a more disciplined and regular writer. I’m a grad student. I read and write a lot. But I’m also a procrastinator. I realize that I wont have deadlines and professors pushing me to be productive and finish my work. Someday I want to write books, do research, etc. I’m hoping that doing this will give me ideas, tips, and just plain old practice in carving out time to write.
  3. I’m behind on some of my work. I feel like this gives me extra-momentum and support to catch up.
  4. I want to learn to stop being anxious about writing. I think sometimes I put it off because I think I don’t have anything to say, or that it wont be good enough. I need to learn and be forced to put my ideas on the page no matter what. I’ve found that when I do, it really helps me think through ideas and issues I am working on. I’m fond of the phrase “writing to know” because I think writing helps us process and truly learn things.

I’m not without reservation signing up for this. I don’t really like word counts. I don’t know where or how I’m going to share my stuff. Some of my words will just be grad school assignments that I dont think are appropriate to publish here. Others might be journaling, creative, etc. I might work on outlines and brain storms too. Who knows. But I’m using this month as time to be productive, to write, to share, and to learn. Stay tuned to see how it shapes up. I’ll certainly be keeping up with my once-a-week posting my goal and probably will have more than that. 

Kansas City and Grassroots Sports Politics

Something has been happening on the Kansas City sports scene lately. Fans have been organizing. They’re fed up with losing. Many are tired of being ignored by and taken advantage of by rich owners. Owners who they have helped make rich by supporting them with publicly-subsidized stadium renovations, game tickets, and team merchandise. They’re fed up and they’re organizing.

While I am sure this is not unique to Kansas City, it is new on my radar. I’m calling it grassroots sports activism. Over the course of this season, groups of both Royals and Chiefs have started grassroots campaigns to enact change. One Royals fan group started a website, raised over $5,000, and took out a full-page ad in the Kansas City Star trying to convince David Glass to sell the team. They want local ownership. Someone who cares about willing. An owner who will invest in the team and make them competitive for the first time in twenty-seven years.

Chiefs fans have followed a similar course. They’ve flown banners over the stadium, and created Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to churn up support. Their goal is to get the attention of their owner, Clark Hunt, so that he’ll oust team General Manager Scott Pioli. Pioli, they believe, has failed as a GM. They cite his loyalty to quarterback Matt Cassel and his mediocre record in the NFL draft as justifications fo change.

Fans are angry and fed up in Kansas City. They’ve become activists uniting to make their voices heard. Many fans feel powerless. This is their only option. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, they will remind you. Even worse, the Royals haven’t even been to the playoffs since they won the World Series in 1985. It’s time for a change.

Activism is the answer for KC fans, which strikes me as a bit odd and misguided. In the structure of today’s professional sports leagues, revenue sharing, TV deals, and merchandise licensing creates enough revenue that owners can still make a profit with only half-full stadiums. The consumer purchasing power of the everyday fan has been severely diminished. Leagues have created a structure where owners can profit by only fielding mediocre teams and not filling their stadiums. Within this structure, boycotts and bad press mean very little to the profit motives of these quasi-capitalist franchises.

This movement of grassroots sport politics in my hometown that has me thinking about bigger issues than sports, however. I’m curious about how and why are fans more engaged and fired up about quasi-capitalists team owners withholding non-tangible goods from them? Maybe it exists, but I’ve yet to see a study that suggest the winning percentage of a city’s professional sports team has a real impact on its population. Or is it really about winning? Most people are in favor of and accept the capitalist system. They know not everyone can be rich, but if we try work enough we can enjoy a decent life. So, perhaps the protest are more about effort. Their rational for change specifically references absentee ownership, and poor scouting and player development. Kansas City fans understand that they cant win championships every year. It’s a small market; they get it. But when other teams build and disassemble winning teams multiple times while Kansas City remains stagnant, they get fed up. They demand we work harder and get better personell.

Perhaps this new grassroots sports activism is indicative of a larger disillusionment in American life. In the wake of 2008, we saw to just what extent that monolithic and impersonal corporations disregard everyday individuals. Government bailouts went to banks and large companies, who in turn used it to pay shareholders and CEO bonuses instead of saving jobs and reducing foreclosures. The hard work and savings toward the American Dream went up in smoke for a lot of people. What’s more, notions of “corporate personhood” were implemented into campaign finance law through the Citizens United Supreme Court case. Individual voices and needs were ignored in favor of greedy profits.

In the sports world, as in broader society, this disillusionment is not partisan. Fans and voters expect their politicians and team owners to satisfy their needs and preserve their since of hope. Both want change, but they seem unsure about which path to take. Is it the fault of the team owner (president), who just doesn’t understand the community and seems complacent? Or it is poor decision making and the refusal to admit mistake on the part of the General Manager (Congress)? Maybe it’s both.

While these parallels are solely the fabrication of my mind, they’ll be interesting to watch. I’m interested to see how the grassroots sports politics plays out in KC. In terms of the Royals, most fans know that they cannot unseat David Glass, but at age 72 there is an end in sight to his time as owner. For the Chiefs, it’s still too early to tell if Scott Pioli is on the hot seat but grumbling amongst the media has begun. Likewise, the league structures are pretty much set-in-stone for the foreseeable future, which makes one wonder, will the disillusionment continue or are franchise level changes enough.

The Battle of Black Jack

Today the Black Jack Battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark. It’s a big step for a little known piece of history with national significance. Situated along the Sante Fe Trail in Eastern Kansas, the battlefield played host to one of the first organized armed conflicts between opposing forces over the issue of slavery. While some historians suggest it could be considered one of the first battles of the Civil War, most point to it as a pivotal point in the escalation of Bleeding Kansas.

The battle featured several prominent Bleeding Kansas figures including Henry Clay Pate and John Brown. The two opposing leaders met at the Black Jack townsite (founded a year earlier) to settle the score from two earlier conflicts. About a month earlier pro-slavery forces sacked Lawrence, a bastion of the abolitionist movement. The abolitionists (or free-staters), led by John Brown,  responded on May 24th with the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre, killing 5 pro-slavery settlers. Not long after the massacre, however, two of John Brown’s sons were taken captive by pro-slavery forces.

As the raids continued, Pate and a group of about 7o men sought to avenge the deaths of Pottawatomie Creek. The men were camped at Black Jack on the night of June 1st as they moved toward strategic free-state strongholds in Douglas County. Brown soon discovered where the Pate and his men were, and before dawn on June 2, 1856 attacked in hopes of quelling their advances and freeing his sons. Although he was outnumbered (Brown only had 25 men), he used the shelter of trees and a creek band to deceive his opponent. The shooting lasted for several hours after the surprise attack before Pate, thinking he was outnumbered, surrendered. Despite the hours of shooting, the only causalities of the battle were two horses. The battle ended with Pate and several of his men taken prisoner.

While Black Jack is only one of many skirmishes within the larger bleeding Kansas conflict, it was the first armed conflict between two organized militias over the issue of slavery. Its predecessors were largely one-sided terror attacks and raids rather than militia versus militia conflicts. Indeed, John Brown himself described the battle as “the first regular battle between Free-State and proslavery forces in Kansas.”

Preservation of the battlefield began in earnest with the establishment of the Black Jack Battlefield Trust in 2003. Since then, the Trust has been working to develop the site and preserve its history. The park site includes the battlefield as well as the Robert Hall Pearson Farmstead (one of the men who fought in the conflict and later purchased the land) and the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve. It’s bittersweet to see the national designation finally come as the preservation story has personal connections and meaning to me.

I earned my undergraduate degree at Baker University located three miles west of the Black Jack battlefield. The university was founded two years after the battle by pioneering Methodists. Since its birth, Baker has maintained its territorial roots and connection to local history. Within this context I took classes in local and Kansas history while completing a history major. As you might expect, one of my most influential mentors at Baker, Brenda Day, was intimately involved with the preservation process. She served as University archivist, curator, and taught a few classes. Black Jack was her pet project.

I got to know Brenda quite well during my time researching in the Baker and Kansas Methodist Archives. She took me under her wing as I completed several project related to University and local history. I became something of an archives rat during these year and we often talked about her experiences developing the project, its history, and all of the events she organized to spread and share its history. The summer after my junior year I interned for her in the archives and was exposed the to hands-on, real life practice of public history. I acquired, organized, and inventoried our collections, and eventually ran day-to-day operations when family deaths and flooding prevented her from coming to work. We also hosted Kansas Humanities Council’s Famous Kansans Chautauqua and conducted a local oral history project with the help of StoryCorps.

It was during this summer that I truly discovered what history really is. Over the course of several conversations with Brenda and other mentors, I decided to abandoned my second major in education and focus solely on history as a future career. I continued working in the archives my senior year, aiding students in research and lightening the load for Brenda. I was one of the few students she trusted with my own set of keys and who knew where things were in the hodgepodge collections and disorganization of the primitive archive. I also had encyclopedic knowledge of Baker University history because of my various research projects.

By winter of my senior year, Brenda told me that her cancer was back. She had survived an intense battle several years earlier, but seemed much more worried and somber this time. That spring when I didn’t get into graduate school, I took a position as an assistant track coach but promised her that I’d stick around and take care of the archives too. I played an essentially interim role keeping the doors open and running day-to-day operations for students and staff.

Throughout this time Brenda was incredible encouraging. At times, she believed in me more than I believed in myself. She was the first person to encourage my research into sports history. When I struggled to find graduate programs, she told me not to settle. I remember her telling me that I’ll write my own-ticket someday and my career will be bigger than the archives. She was an incredibly positive influence on my career.

Brenda Day died on April 24, 2009. In May I quit my coaching job and matriculated to graduate school. Because of her encouragement I dedicated my master’s thesis to her as a testament of her guiding influence in my historical training and the direction of my career. The designation of the Black Jack Battlefield site as a National Historic Landmark is yet another tribute to her selfless dedication to preserving and sharing history. To me, the national designation memorializes her work and brings a national audience to both it and the battlefield.

2013 Purdue HGSA Graduate Student Conference

I just got word the department chair approved the full amount of the budget for I submitted to host a grad student conference at Purdue this spring. I’m the Co-Chair/Organizer. I put together a 5 page packet of info with our proposed schedule, outline, dates, call for papers, and an itemized budget. We really tried to impress him with our organization and details. Apparently it worked!

While the planning is not over, it’s a big sigh of relief to know we have the money to do this thing. It gives us the go ahead to get our CFP out and start searching for a keynote speaker. Although this has kept me much busier than I’d like to be, it’s definitely good experience. It’s reenforcing my latent administrative tendencies.

Because it is past business hours and I am at a conference tomorrow,  I probably won’t get our CFP posted to our website and sent to H-Net and other contacts until Monday. But, since this is my blog and I am co-chair of the conference, I’m going to give you guys a first look at (see below).

Crooked Lines: Connection and Conflict in History, past and present

The Purdue University History Graduate Student Association announces its biennial conference: Crooked Lines: Connection and Conflict in History, past and present. This event will take place on the Purdue University Campus in West Lafayette, IN on Saturday, March 30, 2013.

“… some confidence needs to be regained in the possibilities of grasping society as a whole, of theorizing its bases of cohesion and instability, and of analyzing its forms of motion.” — Geoff Eley, A Crooked Line

Narratives are often portrayed as deceptively linear, which clouds the connections between the past and present, and the variety of paths they follow. Exploring the divergences and convergences of traditional timelines and narratives allows us to broaden our understanding of the past. Crooked lines appear illustrating conflicts and connections across temporal, spatial, and ideological divisions and provide a richer understanding of the human experience. The Purdue History Graduate Student Association welcomes papers from multiple perspectives and disciplines that explore the crooked lines of history.

Submissions for panels or individual papers are welcomed from graduate students at all levels. We welcome scholars whose work focuses on any region or field. Please send a 250-word abstract and short curriculum vitae (no more than two pages) to by January 7, 2013. For panel proposals, please send a 200-word panel abstract along with paper abstracts and presenters’ CVs.

A Brief History of Sports History

When I tell people I study sports history I tend to get a lot of responses. Most think that means I am a walking encyclopedia of sports trivia and statistics (I’m not). A lot of people say they didn’t know that it existed as a field of study. My fellow academics and grad students sometimes view me with skepticism. Aren’ there more important things to study than sports, they think to themselves. Indeed, it is common for people to question the  “scholarly-ness” of studying sports. Of course, I am speaking in generalities here, but a lot of these feelings persist. It’s sometimes hard for people to put their head around it, especially if they have never heard of it.

The historiography of sports history reflects a lot of these challenges. Warren Goldstein described his experiences writing a dissertation on baseball in the 1970s in his retrospective essay “Thirty Years of Baseball History: A Player’s Notes” published in the December 2010 issue of Reviews in American History (login require to access). Although there were a few others doing sports related research, Goldstein recalls the uproar his topic caused within the American Studies department at Yale,  “the famous political historian who had advised my undergraduate senior essay so disliked my draft prospectus that he marched down the hall into the American Studies office, slammed it down on the secretary’s desk, and declared to anyone within earshot that he refused to be associated with such a ridiculous project.” Thirty years later we are in a much better place, he explains.  A slew of dissertations on sports related topics were completed in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Among them were several would-be, big-name sport historians including Allen Guttman, Steven Riess, Elliott Gorn, and, my PhD adivsor, Randy Roberts. Between roughly 1970 and 1985 the filed of sport history really emerged. The North American Society for Sports History (NASSH) was founded in the early 1970s along with the Journal of Sport HistoryNASSH blended existing scholarship by coaches and physical educators with the new group of historians interested in sports.

Despite this professionalization, Goldstein notes that he was out of academia for five years because he couldn’t find a job (partially due to the market). Others, however, did land jobs. Gorn and Roberts both published excellent books on boxing — The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America  and Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler. It took them both a few years of climbing the ladder before they arrived at large, respectable institutions with doctoral programs.

The idea of studying popular culture and leisurely activities slowly grew out of the 1960s and ’70s embrace of the “New Social History” that brought on a variety of new fields such African American, women, urban, and labor history. A decade or so later, the “cultural turn” enveloped those approaches and pushed further away from traditional topics and models of studying history. Inspired by works such as Culture as History by Warren Susman and Eight Hours For What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1970-1920 by Roy Rosenzweig, the study of sports history was caught up in these transitions.

Despite the rise of the subfield, departments are still hesitant to admit new students with a sports history focus. I’ve been lucky to work with two prominent sport historians during my academic career, but it wasn’t easy to find them. When I was applying for MA and PhD programs it was very difficult to find sports historians who taught at schools with graduate programs. Even then, some of them didn’t take on sports students or they only offered MAs. My current advisor is one of the few exceptions. He teaches at a good sized, well-respected BigTen school with a department that embraces our field. Over the past decade he has advised no less that six doctoral students on sports related topics.

Jobs for sports historians are equally hard to find. Few departments actually advertise jobs for historians of sport. That is not to say sport historians don’t get hired, many do, but the field still squirms fairly uncomfortably between history and physical education departments. We’re trained to be historians first and sport scholars second. It is important to have diversity in your fields — things like race, urban, public, or transnational history — to help you get a job. This advice, however,  remains true for all PhD students regardless of their research interest.

The view of sports history is changing. In March 1995, Elliott Gorn and Michael Oriard argued that we should be “Taking Sports Seriously” in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). Tying the study of sports to the excitement surrounding cultural studies in the early 1990s, they wrote:

“Sports present unique challenges to theories about cultural power and personal freedom, which cultural-studies scholars discuss using such categories as “representation,” “commodification,” “hegemony,” and “subversion.” One of the challenges is that sports differ from movies, novels, music, and television shows, all of which scholars view as wholly “constructed.” Sports, however, are essentially “unscripted.”

Their article touches on many nuances and interesting approaches to subject and its link to mass culture and the lived experience. It inspired a glut of new scholarship. Since then the field has broadened and there’s been lots of new approaches to studying sports. This new scholarship would not have been possible, Goldstein reminds us, if people like him and those in his generation did not sketch out the broad history of sports first. Multiple university presses now offer book series on topics such as “sport and society.” These books often sell well and offer exciting ways to present history to broader audiences (as well as make more profits).

In my own view, sports history and public history should go hand-in-hand. I approach sports history as a way to reach a broader audience and show people that sports are more than just entertainment. They often reflect broader trends in American life and reflect larger societal concerns and issues. This includes things like bureaucratization, racism and integration, labor disputes, and much much more.

This leaves us with an exciting and relevant field with lots left to be explored. In an era of soundbites and short attention spans, I’m hopefully that teaching American history through sports will keep students engaged. So too are Georgia Tech and the Wisconsin. They’ve recently announced the creation of endowed chairs in sports history further affirming the subfields place within the “legitimate” academic world.