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[Detail] Memoirs of mammoth...Thomas Ashe 1806.

Chronological Thinking: Continuity and Change in Sports

Physically active forms of recreation, sports, have existed throughout history, but the forms of sports change as society changes. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Doddridge wrote “Notes, on the settlement and Indian wars, of the western parts of Virginia & Pennsylvania,” in which he reported on many everyday activities of settlers in the west. In a chapter on “Sports,” he described them as follows:

Amusements are, in many instances, either imitations of the business of life, or at least, of some of its particular objects of pursuit; on the part of young men belonging to nations in a state of warfare, many amusements are regarded as preparations for the military character which they are expected to sustain in future life. Thus, the war dance of savages, is a pantomime of their stratagems and horrid deeds of cruelty in war, and the exhibition prepares the minds of their young men for a participation in the bloody tragedies which they represent. Dancing, among civilized people, is regarded, not only as an amusement suited to the youth period of human life; but as a means of inducing urbanity of manners and a good personal deportment in publick.

From “Notes, on the settlement and Indian wars, of the western parts of Virginia & Pennsylvania,” image 38

Read the chapter on sports. Take notes in a T-chart, in which you note continuity in sports and other amusements in the left column (things that are similar between 1824 and today) and change in the right column (things that are different).

  • What are the most notable continuities in sports from 1824 to the present? What are the most significant changes? 
  • Do you think that amusements today are “imitations of the business of life, or at least, of some of its particular objects of pursuit”? Give examples to support your answer. If you do not think that sports and other amusements serve as preparation for such activities as military service, what purposes do they serve? Is this an important change?
  • When Rev. Doddridge provided his explanation of the “war dance of savages,” he was making inferences from an outsider’s perspective. That is, he was observing a culture of which he was not a member and filtering his observations through the perspective of his own culture. How accurate are such interpretations? Think about how someone from a different culture might view the way in which you and your friends dance. Write an explanation of contemporary teenage dancing from an outsider’s perspective. What value would such a description/interpretation have as a historical document?

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