I rarely, if ever, delve into self-promotion. Anyway with a faint knowledge of the Irish psyche will know that self-confidence is one of the Irish deadly sins. Even worse is the idea that one be classed as ‘someone with notions’ for being too confident. With that proviso in mind, I am very happy to announce that I – a man now with ‘notions’ – have published a readable handbook on the history of physical culture with Common Ground publishing.
Even more exciting – especially for a boring anorak like my good self – is that this book is actually affordable! To put that into context, the first academic book I published, The History of Physical Culture in Ireland currently retails for over $80 (at your finest online bookstores). Instead, this short handbook (116 pages) can be bough as an ebook for $15 or a hardback for $25 on Common Ground’s website (click here).
What I want to do in this post is briefly discuss what the book is, why it may be of interest and how it fits within Common Ground’s exciting new lines.
Publishing on Physical Culture
This website has been running since 2014. During that time I have finished an undergraduate degree, a masters degree, a PhD, gotten two jobs in academia and taken up knitting. The rather chaotic nature of my own life is reflected in this website which swings wildly from topic to topic based upon my own research fancies.
If someone wanted to get a chronological history of physical culture, beginning in the Ancient World and continuing to the present day, you would be hard pressed to find it here. If you wanted random histories pieced together, then this is the site for you! More seriously, excellent research exists on various elements of physical culture from a range of different countries. Just check out the books of John Fair, David Chapman, the Todds, Shannon Walsh, Randy Roach, and a host of other authors. Likewise Iron Game History, Ironhistory.com and the Strongman Project are all treasure troves of information.
That withstanding, a simple history of physical culture, aimed at giving people a clear historical outline, and suggestions for further reading, is lacking.
What the Handbook Provides
This handbook is, to my knowledge, the first time that a brief history of physical culture has been written. It was written initially for college undergraduate students who are new to the topic, and was loosely based on my own experiences lecturing students at UT Austin (Go Longhorns!). As the book has begun to recieve more attention, its become clear that the handbook is also of interest to people with a recreational interest in learning more about physical culture across two millenia.
I wrote this book with 2014 Conor in mind. This was the Conor who began this website to ask questions about fitness and wanted to learn more. I wanted to write a handbook that would have given Conor a firm grounding on what we know, while also giving him questions and suggestions about how to go further.
The book is divided into the following Chapters
- Chapter One: Ancient Physical Culture (s)
- Chapter Two: Disappearance and Re-Emergence
- Chapter Three: The Birth of Physical Culture
- Chapter Four: The Age of Fitness
Chapter One discusses the history of physical culture in the Ancient World, discussing, where possible, how physical culture practices emerged in modern-day Greece, India, Egypt and China. While I was limited by my access to English language sources (which meant that African physical culture is neglected), the Chapter discusses the exercises and diets used thousands of years ago.
Chapter Two focus on the fall of the Roman Empire, the period commonly referred to as the ‘Middle Ages,’ and the Renaissance period. This vast timeline, which spans several centuries, discusses the disappearance of Greco-Roman training systems in the Western world following the fall of Rome, the emergence of knew medieval training structures (so how Knights trained) and, finally, how Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries helped to revive gymnasium cultures.
Chapter Three builds on the previous chapter and focuses on an intensification of interest in physical culture and gymnasium cultures in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This, and the next Chapter, follow the interests of this website most closely. Attention is drawn here to the creation of popular gymnasiums around the world, the growth of physique stars and the normalisation of physical activity.
Finally, Chapter Four focuses on the twentieth century to the present day with reference to the splintering of physical culture into different sports like bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting etc. It also looks at how different governments around the world began promoting physical culture (including the Nazi and Italian fascist regimes of the inter-war period). The Chapter finishes by discussing relatively new trends like Crossfit, and the influence of social media in general.
Throughout the book readers are directed towards more indepth readings, and are also given questions to challenge their own understandings of physical culture and its place in society.
The Common Ground Series in General
I was very fortunate with this book. Typically in academia, researchers have to pitch their own book ideas to presses and, in my own experience, deal with multiple rejections before finally securing a contract. In this instance, the editors of the Common Ground Sport & Society series (Dr. Jörg Krieger and Dr. Lindsay Parks Pieper), reached out to me about creating this book.
As you’ll see from their website, this new Sport & Society series is an ongoing project which seeks to provide easily accessible sport histories on a range of different areas. Three have been published thus far (including this book) and several more will be published in 2023 and 2024. I’m thus in high company with other works on the 1936 Berlin Olympics and hegemony in sport. Something that I love about this series is that the publisher has also allowed us to provide additional digital resources with the book which can be accessed at any point. A list of my own digital resources can be found here.
That’s All Folks
To quote the great cartoons, that’s all for me folks. The book is available to purchase here and people are under no obligation to buy. This is a rare lapse into celebrations! As always… Happy Lifting.
Can’t wait to purchase your book. I continue to read and enjoy your paper on Tom Burrows! Take care.
That’s awesome thanks Steve. Hope you’re keeping well!
Will be a great read
Thanks Thomas. It’s been a minute – I hope you’re keeping well 🙂
As soon as I saw this, I tried to purchase a copy, but it seems that I needed some sort of password or other rigamarole. It was baffling…at least for an old-timer like me. How can I just buy a copy of the book? I’ll be eagerly looking forward to it.
Thanks Jan. That really means a lot! Hmm, that seems very odd. I think you can purchase it from Amazon if that is any easier? I believe the publisher does require an account
As of yesterday, Amazon did not appear to be stocking it yet. I’ll check back again, as I firmly intend to get a copy, one way or another. I wrote something similar that appeared on the Set for Set blog for December 31, 2021, but I’m sure your work is far more comprehensive and superior. I’m the amateur, you’re the pro. Looked at some of your videos yesterday. If you ever should depart from the Groves of Academe (I was forcibly ejected!), you might have a bright future as a stand-up comedian. You are a very funny, entertaining guy!
Haha thank you. I think academia is my lane… at least I hope so!
Hmm. That is really odd as it appears on the UK Amazon. It should hit the US one soon in that case?
Got the book this morning. Finished it during the course of the day. I was already familiar with a lot of the content, but I also learned much, especially about exercise and fitness in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Interesting that you consider the Farnese Hercules to have been a major inspiration to the art and nascent physical culture movement of the Renaissance. I know that E. Norman Gardiner in his 1930 treatise Athletics of the Ancient World (I’m sure it must be in your personal library) is quite scathing about that statue–an example of “degraded taste.” “To Glycon strength consists in bulk and in bulging, over-developed muscles, which even at rest are not relaxed. His Heracles in fact is hopelessly muscle-bound.” I have a feeling that were we ever to meet we could spend many hours in pleasant conversation discussing these topics. Anyway, congratulations on an informative, interesting piece of work!