Using the Archive to Teach Sport History, Digital Humanities, and Rhet-Comp

My first teaching appointment at UIowa has been in the general education Rhetoric program. Rhetoric was a more logical fit than literature gen ed classes, but I got the offer letter at the end of a BM degree program in which I hadn’t taken a single English or Communication Studies class. [Three cheers for AP/dual enrollment credits.] Parsing out the musical elements of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron? No problem. Teaching 20 first-year students how to critically read, write, and speak in 16 weeks? Another story. Being a fresh-faced 22 year old and the instructor of record for a legit class didn’t do much to alleviate imposter syndrome. Like I tell my undergrad students now, that which doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. Except for snakes. Don’t mess with snakes, even if they do turn back into Moses’ rod.

How working in a gen ed rhet-comp program has shaped my perspective on teaching, higher education, grad student labor, and any number of other areas is the subject for another post. But, my final year in Rhetoric starts this fall, so I’m putting a few thoughts on paper. To make a very long story short, in Spring 2015 UIowa’s Sport Management program asked Rhetoric if a “sport themed” class could be offered to meet the gen ed requirement. Similar sections exist for engineering, nursing, pre-law, and business, so this wasn’t a totally foreign concept.

The request was discussed in a Rhetoric faculty meeting, and somehow someone in the room remembered “that graduate TA in the basement with a baseball picture/quote on her office door.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) A few emails later, and I was set to teach 2 sections of “Rhetoric of Sport” in Fall 2015, with the entire summer to design a curriculum. The guinea pig classes of students condensed “Rhetoric of Sport” to “Sport Rhetoric,” and the Department’s now using “Sports Rhetoric.” Despite title changes, the course description has remained the same [with a huge shout-out to grad student colleagues + office mates Chris Henderson, Eileen Narcotta-Welp, Diane Williams, and Diann Rosza]:

“This section will use issues and controversies in sport as a vehicle for studying rhetoric. Through sport-related readings, discussions, and oral/written analytical and persuasive projects, students will explore how mediated representations of sport and various forms of sport communication impact a variety of audiences and stakeholders. Although the course will focus on contemporary and historical sport within the United States, international competition will be addressed.”

In a similar vein to Matt Hodler’s “crowd-sourced” blank syllabus for a post-1900 US Sport History course, the curriculum uses key sport figures, events, and moments in US history to explore race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, nationalism/patriotism, etc…….all through the lens of mediated representations- rhetoric. Side note: if you haven’t read Matt’s piece, stop and go read it now.

With the whole summer to design a curriculum, my first stab at a bibliography was 7 pages long. After some useful input from American Studies faculty, more than a few rounds of revision, and astute feedback from each group of students who took the class last year, the list of topics and materials I’ll be using this fall:

Introduction & Foundations (Unit 1):

  • Jay, Katherine. “Introduction” from More Than Just a Game: Sports in American Life Since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Moller, William. “We, the Public, Place the Best Athletes on Pedestals.” From They Say/I Say2nd Edition With Readings. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 545-551.

Gender and Sexuality (Unit 2):

  • Eitzen, Stanley D., and Maxine Baca Zinn. “The De-athleticization of Women: The Naming and Gender Marking of Collegiate Teams.” Sociology of Sport Journal 5 (1989): 362-370.
  • Grindstaff, Laura, and Emily West. “Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport.” Social Problems 53 no. 4 (2006). 500-518.
  • Crittenden, Ann. “Closing the Muscle Gap.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 110-114.

Race & Ethnicity (Unit 3):

  • Rhoden, William. “Chapter 7, The Conveyor Belt: The Dilemma of Alienation,” from Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. 171-196.
  • King, C. Richard. “On being a warrior: Race, gender and American Indian imagery in sport.” International Journal of the History of Sport 23 no. 2 (2006): 315-330.
  • John Oliver’s “The NCAA” LWT segment.

Body & Respectability Politics (Unit 4):

Cold War Politics & The Olympics (Unit 5):Part 1:

  • Ryan, Joan. “The Cold Wars: Inside the Secret World of Figure Skating.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 192-198.
  • Padlet Readings

Part 2: Disney 2004 film Miracle and 2015 documentary Red Army

  • Butterworth, Michael L. “Do You Believe in Nationalism? American Patriotism in Miracle” from Examining Identity in Sports Media. Edited by Heather Hundley and Andrew C. Billings. London: Sage, 2010. 133-152.

Baseball & America (Unit 6):

  • Nathan, Daniel A. “Baseball as the National Pastime: A Fiction Whose Time Is Past.” International Journal of the History of Sport 31 (2014). 91-108..

Breaking Barriers In Sport (Unit 7):Part I: Warner Bros. 2013 film 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.

  • Ruck, Rob. “Introduction” from Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011. Vii-xiii.

Part II: PBS 2016 Ken Burns documentary Jackie Robinson.

 Sport & 9/11 (Unit 8):

  • Jenkins, Tricia. “The Militarization of American Professional Sports: How the Sports-War Intertext Influences Athletic Ritual and Sports Media.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 20 (2013). 1-16.

Media & Sport (Unit 9): ESPN IX for IX, Let Them Wear Towels.

  • Ricchardi, Sherry. “Offensive Interference.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 308-317.
  • DiCaro, Julie. “ Vitriol. Hate. Ugly truth about women in sports and social media.” Sport Illustrated. 28 September 2015.

 Space & Place for Sport (Unit 10):

  • Beaver, Travis D. “Roller Derby Uniforms: The Pleasures and Dilemmas of Sexualized Attire.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport (2014): 1-19.
  • John Oliver’s “Stadiums” LWT segment.

Civil Rights & College Sports (Unit 11):Part I: ESPN 30 for 30 Ghosts of Ole Miss

Part II:
  • Schultz, Jaime. “Introduction” and “Chapter 3: Ozzie Simmons, Floyd of Rosedale, and a Tale of Two Governors” from Moments of Impact: Injury, Racialized Memory, and Reconciliation in College Football. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. 1-20, 73-102.
  • Storify readings

A lot there, and a lot that’s missing. Also- behold the glories of Padlet. One of the best free DH pedagogy tools out there, along with Storify. If you haven’t explored using it in the classroom, or even for your own curriculum planning, give it a try. Last spring I converted an entire Foundations of Feminist Inquiry PhD seminar to the gospel of Padlet. If you have questions about the curriculum, how I use it, or the assignments that go with it, let me know in the comment section.You can check out some of the written projects online at the course blog.

During my first semester teaching the curriculum, for my own research I was working on a project with old Vanderbilt yearbooks and student newspapers. I had the crazy idea students in the class could benefit from doing a similar project in the UIowa University Archive + Special Collections. UI’s incredibly gracious Special Collections Instruction Librarian Amy Chen should have told me the idea was crazy when I met with her in October 2015, but she didn’t. After a somewhat rocky first attempt, we debriefed and regrouped, brought in University Archivist David McCartney, revised the assignment, and went for it again Spring 2016, using a curated primary source set model from the National Archives (Amy’s brilliant idea).

In the Rhetoric curriculum, this assignment is a persuasive analysis + synthesis public speaking project, but the skills it hones fit other curriculum objectives. Check out the full assignment sheet.

An excerpt:

Throughout the semester we have explored and discussed the different ways sport (specific sports/athletes as well as “sport” more broadly) relate to a variety of issues and events within American society. We have also addressed the role sport narratives (the stories we tell and are told about sport) impact + relate to society. Your final project will explore how many of these same themes and issues have been part of the history of sport here at the University of Iowa.

As you move through the composition process for this assignment, you should work toward being able to clearly identify (1) the event/individual/team/era you will be focusing on, (2) what primary source materials you have found useful AND what collection they came from, and (3) why/how you find this topic compelling or interesting.

Some links to digitized collections to start your research process:

Graded components of this process include:

  1. Topic selection and research using primary sources (Weeks 10-12)
  2. Analysis and interpretation of those sources and the events they relate—putting them into a broader historical, social, and cultural context (Weeks 12-13)
  3. Creation of a narrated video featuring your primary source material and your analysis/interpretation (Weeks 13-15)
  4. Public presentation of your narrative project (Week 16)

Effective final projects will:

  • Have a clear theme, topic, and scope (a clear sense for how the primary sources you have found “fit together”)
  • Insightful analysis and interpretation of the primary sources (what events/issues do these materials communicate, how can we interpret these in light of other course readings/documentaries/discussions/etc.)
  • An aesthetically appealing, well-designed video that communicates a clear narrative about your project (more than just “Here’s the cool stuff I found in the archive!” Your narrative should put your archival materials “in context”). Narration should be clear, well-prepared and include your own analysis and interpretation of the primary source material.

It’s more than a few steps removed from a “point-and-deliver” argumentative final speech. After we go over the assignment sheet, students get additional information on resources/tools for the technical components of the project. The short version is PPT or iMovie, but again- can go into more detail in comments. The idea for a narrated video comes from the Iowa Narratives Project and Archives Alive curriculum produced by UIowa’s IDEAL Initiative. Side note- if you take teaching and digital learning practicums in the same semester, you will end up completely revamping your curriculum, whatever you’re teaching. All credit goes to Megan Knight and Matt Gilchrist. Top-notch pedagogues and mentors.

The why behind adopting (or adapting) an alternate curriculum is multifaceted. The short version for me was I wanted students working in the archives to see how the issues, themes, and topics we’d been engaging with all semester were part of their own University’s history. I’ll never forget the moment I looked at a 1900 Vanderbilt yearbook and learned students who wanted to join the Mississippi Club were required to have seen at least one lynching. There’s something to be said for staring your alma mater’s history in the face to see all that once was good but also terrible. [Speaking of staring your history in the face, Vanderbilt’s first-year reading for Fall 2017 is Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by fellow alum Andrew Maraniss. WELL DONE, VANDERBILT.]

The digital question is even thornier. DH research and pedagogy are exciting new buzzwords, the latest, greatest shiny new things that will reinvigorate our lagging, outmoded disciplines. Those of us who teach in “old school” basement classrooms are quick to point out comparing a flipped, technology-enhanced classroom to “philosophy and environment of a startup” speaks more to neoliberalism in the increasingly corporatized higher ed landscape than it does a holistic appraisal of the value of a liberal arts, humanistic education in the 21st century.

There’s a complex conversation to be had around the ethics and merits of DH work, especially as relates to technology, resources, funding, and teaching. But, I’ve also seen how incorporating DH pedagogy in the classroom raises the stakes for student work and fosters student engagement and buy-in. When an argumentative essay becomes a public-facing blog post, students start taking revision seriously. When essay feedback is a narrated screencast rather than margin comments, students respond differently. When students are able to use the space of a final speech project to discover and tell a story that matters to them, they want to do good work. When that project lives on in a medium that can be archived, publicized, and shared on social media, students want to create something that has a longer shelf life than a 6-8 minute speech delivered in the sleep-deprived haze of Week 16.

A Phi Kappa Psi fraternity member wants to learn more about fellow fraternity brother Nile Kinnick. A student becomes outraged when she learns UI used to require dancing, etiquette, and comportment classes for female students. A student-athlete on the gymnastics team learns about the 1969 men’s national championship team whose victory was overshadowed by civil rights-driven tensions and protests in the football program. Students who live in Slater Hall realize the building’s namesake, Duke Slater, couldn’t live in segregated University housing when he was a student. I’m more than a little biased about the allure and potentiality of archival research, but again- there’s something to be said for being confronted by your own history.

I’ll let some of the stand-out projects speak for themselves, but with the summer opening up time, space, and mental energy to consider what we’ll be teaching in the fall (and how), think about what possibilities and resources await in primary source collections and university archives. The results are worth it.

“If You Build It, They Will Come”: Complicating Baseball’s Midwestern Myth

[Subtitled: “When your summer baseball road trip turns into the early draft of a dissertation chapter.” Go figure.]

Last August, I was sitting behind first base at Ashford University Field, watching the Clinton Lumberkings face off against the Lansing Lugnuts. I had started the day in in Dyersville, Iowa, home to the Field of Dreams movie site where in 1989 Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella made a generation of baseball fans believe that “If you build it, he will come.” Steeped in nostalgia, the site features the original film’s house, barn, and baseball field, and the cornfields—actual farmland—that surround the rural community reinforce the remote “otherworldliness” of the site. The plan was to finish my baseball day trip with an evening Minor League Baseball (used interchangeably with MiLB) game, squeezing one last ounce of small-town baseball nostalgia out of my summer before the semester began. I drove into Clinton, a town of 26,000 with lumber mill roots, and parked my car in a dilapidated lot behind a field that had also seen better days. Just as I found my seat, the entire park began to shake as a train blasted through on the adjacent tracks. During batting practice, members of both teams shouted across the field in a garble of Spanish and English. Hitting coaches resorted to hand signals when translation efforts and broken Spanglish failed. A Latino host family chided a player in Spanish as they brought him a bottle of Gatorade and a banana. My rural Midwestern imaginary was shattered.

My generation of baseball fans came of age in an era when baseball fields dotted city parks and suburbs and the baseball films that emerged in the 1980s and ‘90s preached the message that true baseball was about fathers and sons playing catch in the Heartland. Particularly after the 1994 player’s strike and stigma of the steroid era, professional baseball in urban spaces became increasingly suspect and untrustworthy. In the midst of this crisis of representation, player demographics began shifting with an influx of players from outside the United States, particularly from Latin America. Rather than step into that uncertainty and craft a new, more heterogeneous and culturally-relevant identity, Major League Baseball’s marketing and engagement with popular culture looked to a particular version of baseball’s past to maintain present relevance, a trend seen elsewhere in baseball’s history. Rather than move forward, baseball-as it has throughout American history-looked back.


Read on for the rest of “’If You Build It, They Will Come: Complicating Baseball’s Midwestern Myth.”

And just in case you weren’t already hooked, an excerpt from the ending:


In a moment of sad irony, professional baseball in 2016 is determined to reenact the game of the early 1900s, promoting a version of “respectable” white masculinity that an earlier era’s rampant gambling, alcoholism, and other maladies profoundly complicates.

This is the baseball I’ve grown up with. A baseball world in which St. Louis Cardinals fans sell makeshift Darren Wilson jerseys outside the stadium just months after Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. A moment in which the post-racial collides with the post-modern.

But as a fan I also like baseball, in spite of its flaws. I watch the game, follow the season, and it seems as if I am dipped in magic waters that bring both pain and pleasure. In baseball, I see a sport with its barrier-breaking heroes and glaring omissions, a trumpeted historical legacy marked by deafening silences. A sport too rooted in its past to make sense of its present.

I see Puig, Harper, and Bautista, Ken Burns’ new Jackie Robinson documentary, and I am encouraged and excited. I’d like to think that people will still come. People will come to baseball, look into its contentious past, and see the imagined history in a new light. The professional baseball establishment will probably mind.

The field of baseball is a piece of our American past, reminding us of all that once was good but also terrible. Showing us the lasting ideological power of the game across American history and culture. Showing us the legacies of oppression and inequality that continue as present-day realities. Offering an alternative contemporary truth that would erase and rebuild the known and beloved baseball history. And move toward a baseball we might want to make great again.