Research Interests

My doctorate is in American Studies and my first books and articles were studies in American history and literature. The focus of my research varied. My first book explored American responses to the Spanish Civil War. I was surprised to discover that most responses were liberal rather than radical. This intrigued me so much that I decided to study traditionalist (not laissez-faire) conservatism. I found that the liberal tradition that formed the core of the American response to the Spanish Civil War has so dominated American politics that traditionalist conservatism has been a fringe phenomenon restricted, for the most part, to American literature rather than to practical politics.

While working on that book, I was invited to speak to the Hillel Society of the University of Massachusetts. I spoke about Jewish writers, such as Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth, whom I had been teaching in an upper-level seminar. The rabbi who introduced me began the discussion with a denunciation. His anger made me curious. I wrote an article on Jewish writers that appeared in American Scholar and caused a small controversy. That motivated me to do a book on the topic, which caused a somewhat larger controversy.

At that point, my research veered in a wholly unexpected direction. While teaching in Germany, I visited the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and observed 50,000 Germans screaming their heads off at soccer match. What was that all about? Why weren't they playing baseball or football? I began to do research for a book on the difference between European and American sports. The topic ran away with me. Before I was done with my first book on sports, I had studied ancient, medieval, and Renaissance sports as well as modern ones. I found that the really fundamental differences are not between here (US) and there (Europe), but between now (the present) and then (the past). Modern sports are unique. I published From Ritual to Record in 1978 and it is still in print, having been translated into French, German, Italian, and Japanese. (Chinese and Korean translations are on the way.)

Once involved in sports studies, I never went back - as a researcher - to my earlier interests. Instead, I wrote nine more books on the social and cultural history of sports. Although my approach was always historical, the focus shifted from book to book, from a study of sports spectators, for instance, to an analysis of eros and sports. One constant interest has been the history of women's sports. In addition to a book on the topic, I coedited a three-volume international encyclopedia of women and sports. My involvement in a field of research dominated by radical feminists has brought brickbats as well as kudos. My most recent publication is Sports: The First Five Millennia. The subtitle is meant to be ironic. No one knows enough to write such a history, but it was fun to try. The book won the annual prize of the North American Society for Sports History and it was a History Book Club selection. If we can find a publisher, Carol Clark (Fine Arts) and I plan a book on sports and American art. This would take me back to where I started - American Studies.