British Society of Sports History

Promoting the Study of the History of Sport

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Seminar Series

We are delighted to announce the new Sport and Leisure History Seminar programme for the first half of 2021. Eight seminars will take place between January and June. You can find a list of speakers here or on the IHR website here, where you can also register for individual sessions in order to receive a Zoom link.

If you haven't already checked them out, we do publish the seminars as podcasts - so if you are unable to attend, or wish to revisit the topics at any time, you can listen any time on Soundcloud. Click here or search for ‘BSSH London’ to see all available episodes.


The next Sport & Leisure History seminar will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday 1st February on Zoom.

The speaker is Kathryne Crossley of Oxford University.


The event is free and can be accessed via the Institute of Historical Research website at:-


Kathryne Crossley, Oxford University: ‘A Very Manly Recreation’: Oxford College Servants’ Rowing 1850-1950


From the early decades of the nineteenth century through the postwar era, men who worked in domestic service at Oxford colleges enjoyed a variety of sports, including rowing, cricket, bowls, tennis, athletics and football. Unlike other traditional paternalistic employers, college servants’ club sports were partly subsidized by the colleges but were primarily self-organized. The academic calendar left servants largely unsupervised to enjoy access to the river and sports fields in the summer months, unencumbered by the heavy workloads associated with the academic terms, as fellows and undergraduates left the city during the long vacations. The history of these clubs offers important insights into experiences of class and masculinity, and how these changed over time.


Workers formed college club teams to compete locally, and from these, created university teams to compete further afield. From 1850, regular contests were arranged with college servants from Cambridge, culminating in a popular Oxford and Cambridge servants’ boat race and cricket match, which celebrated its centenary in 1950. In Oxford, the annual college servants’ sports weekend in April was the typically most widely attended spectator event each year. Of these sports, college servants’ rowing leaves perhaps the best collection of archival sources, and provides considerable insight into the history of working-class rowing, a sport that was uniquely affected by rigid class boundaries and social hierarchies.



Kathryne Crossley is an early career researcher in labour history, having recently completed a DPhil in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford. Her thesis examines the lives of the men, women and children who worked as domestic servants in Oxford colleges in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 



Members may also be interested in another event at the IHR this Thursday when Michael Collins (UCL) will be giving a paper titled ‘Staying at the crease: cricket, history and ‘race’ in postwar Britain'



Previous papers:

Monday 18 January 2021: Allister Webb, MMU

Why history matters in contemporary sporting events, bidding, and international cricket.


Monday 2 December 2019: Kay Schiller, Durham University [cancelled due to industrial action at Durham University]

'The Fastest Jew in Germany: Alex Natan 1906-1971

This paper deals with the biography of the elite Jewish-German sprinter, sports writer and left-wing political activist Alex Natan, “the fastest Jew in Germany” (Alfred Flechtheim) during the 1920s. Hailing from an assimilated family of the Berlin Jewish-German middle class, Natan was for most of his active career a member of the bürgerlich sport movement, running for SC Charlottenburg Berlin. He achieved his greatest athletic success as a member of the club’s world-record equalling 4x100-Meter relay squad in 1929. In addition to Natan’s athletic achievements, the paper pays particular attention to his career as a left-wing sports journalist; his participation in the anti-Nazi resistance of civil servants in the Reich Vice Chancellery in 1933/34; his emigration to Britain in 1933; his four-year internment during World War II; the resumption of his journalistic career in the post-war period; and his support for the 1972 Munich Olympics. By focusing on his confrontations with Carl Diem and Karl Ritter von Halt, the paper also engages with Natan’s vocal opposition to the rehabilitation after 1945 of sport functionaries who had collaborated with the Nazi regime.



Monday 4 November 2019: Helena Byrne, British Library

'Where are we now?  A review of research on the history of women's soccer in Ireland'

This presentation is based on an article that was recently published in a special edition of Sport in History focused on women’s football. It is a common fact that women’s sport and leisure history, especially in male dominated spheres, and more specifically football, have been ignored by many academics. However, in recent years there have been major developments in digital technology that have changed the nature of the type of research that can be done. Access to tools to facilitate field research are relatively cheap and with the high volume of digitisation projects that have taken place over the last few years as well as the increasing number of born digital resources that have been published, there are new opportunities. In relation to women’s soccer in Ireland, the article asked the question – where are we now? The argument reviewed the current literature on this subject and outlined potential approaches for future research that include web archives, crowd sourcing, digitised newspapers and oral history.



Monday 7 October 2019: Raf Nicholson, Bournemouth University

'Women’s Sport Governance: Merger-Takeovers in the 1990s and beyond'

In 1993 the Sports Council’s new policy document, Women and Sport, recommended that all national governing bodies of sport ‘establish a single governing body’. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, almost all women’s sports that were administered separately to their male counterparts therefore ‘merged’ with the men’s governing body: squash in 1989, football and athletics in 1992, lacrosse in 1996, and hockey and cricket in 1998. In practice, these mergers became ‘takeovers’, whereby female administrators were forced to cede governance of their sports to male-run bodies whose priority and focus remained men’s sport.

Work has been conducted on the impact of this process on individual sports, with cricket being a particular focus (Velija et al 2012, Nicholson 2019). Internationally, studies of similar amalgamations between men's and women's sporting organisations have found that such processes increase male control at the expense of female autonomy (Cox and Thompson 2003, Lovett and Lowry 1995, Stronach and Adair 2009). However, there has been no study which considers the impact of the Sports Council’s policy on the UK sporting landscape as a whole.

This paper begins that process, reviewing the mergers in the context of various sports and asking the key question: How does a government policy of forced integration of women’s and men’s sport affect those sports in practice?

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  BSSH Sport & Leisure History Podcast #1 - Lydia Furse