The British Society of Sports History was founded by Richard Cox in 1982.
The society’s origins can be traced to the History of Education Society. In 1977 a History of Physical Education Study Group (HISPA), established by David McNair and Nick Parry, emerged out of this society. However, as interest in the broader area of sport started to take precedent a new group, the British History of Sport Association, was formed in 1978. In 1981 it was re-named the British Society of Sports Historians.
In March 1982, following a number of informal meetings, the inaugural conference was organised by Richard Cox and took place at the University of Liverpool. Peter McIntosh, Tony Mangan, John Lowerson and Richard Holt were invited as the main speakers, with additional contributions on the second day of the conference from Derek Benning, Beryl Furlong, Joachim Rühl and Peter Treadwell.
At this conference the British Society of Sports History was more formally constituted with Tony Mangan as the first Chair. The first secretary was Beryl Furlong (1982-85) while Peter Treadwell (1982-85) became the first treasurer.
Membership grew to around 60 in the first year and has since steadily grown to over 160 by 2020.
BSSH’s activities have been divided into three main areas.
Initially the annual conferences first focused on specific themes to encourage new research but since then they have generally been open-themed to reflect the growing work and interest in the subject.
At first the Society’s annual conferences centred on themes such as religion, women, nationalism, imperialism, images and other growing areas in the field. Since 2000 open conferences have been held to better accommodate member’s increasingly diverse set of interests.
As well as conferences, publications have always been a central feature of the Society’s activities.
The British Journal of Sports History was founded in 1984 under the editorship of Richard Cox, John Lowerson and Tony Mangan. Articles from the first issue explored sport’s broader links with society and included an article by one of the sub-discipline’s pioneers, James Walvin, titled, ‘Sport, Social History and the Historian’. It reflected the on-going aim amongst historians of sport to debunk the ‘myth of autonomy’ and to demonstrate how the subject has been shaped by and shapes the wider historical context.
An agreement with the publisher, however, could not be reached that would tie subscriptions into membership of the society. The BJSH was later renamed the International Journal of the The BJSH was later renamed the International Journal of the History of Sport (1987) after a schism within the field, which led to the journal losing its links with the BSSH.
The society’s first publication had been the British Society of Sport History Bulletin, which began in 1984. It reflected the society’s early form of publications: an occasional publication combining the function of a record of conferences and a Society newsletter.
After 12 editions the Bulletin evolved into The Sports Historian: The Journal of the British Society of Sports History. First published in May 1993 (confusingly, it was listed as number 13, following the Bulletin series), its first permanent editor was Russell Potts while Richard Cox was the book reviews editor.
In 2002 The Sports Historian was revamped and renamed Sport in History which is published to this day.
3. Honours and Awards
Another way of promoting and recognising achievement in sports history research has been the annual Aberdare Literary Prize. Sponsored by Lord Aberdare, whose family name has long been associated with the development and administration of sport in Britain, the prize is awarded to the best book on British sports history or the best book on sports history published by a British scholar in the previous year. The first winner was awarded in 1994 to John P. Sugden and Alan Bairner Sport, Sectarianism and Society in a Divided Ireland in a Divided Ireland (London: Leicester University Press, 1993).
The Sir Derek Birley lecture was inaugurated in 2003. Derek Birley was not only an early pioneer of sports history but also an early member of the BSSH and a sub-editor of The Sports Historian. His three-volume work on the history of British sport gave the subject greater credibility in academia more generally. Richard Holt had written a review essay on all three in The Sports Historian (November 1998) and, appropriately, gave the first Sir Derek Birley lecture.
From 2002 the Society has also recognised postgraduate students through the Richard Cox Student Essay Award. Announced each year at the annual BSSH conference, the Richard Cox Student Essay Award is given to the postgraduate student whose written submission is deemed to be of excellent quality by a select number of judges. In many instances, the essay will later be published in Sport in History.
In 2019 and 2020, the BSSH created two new research awards – the Best Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) for sixth form students and an Undergraduate Essay prize.
Many thanks to Richard Cox and Neil Carter for their hard work in curating the Society’s history.