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Matthew AlgeoPedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport

Chicago Review Press, 2014

by Bruce Berglund on September 4, 2014

Matthew Algeo

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Once upon a time, before baseball drew crowds to America’s ballparks and English workers spent their Saturdays at the football grounds, one of the most popular spectator events in both countries was watching people walk. Pedestrianism had its start outdoors, as walkers set off on long-distance treks for the simple challenge of it—or to win a bet. In the 1870s, the sport moved indoors. Tens of thousands of spectators filled the great exhibition halls of industrial cities to watch pedestrians circle a track on the floor. The big event was the six-day race, in which racers competed to see who could cover the greatest distance in the allotted time. Winners typically exceeded 500 miles.

In his book Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport (Chicago Review Press, 2014), Matthew Algeo offers an engaging account of this curious chapter in the history of sport. As Matthew points out, 19th-century pedestrianism is a revealing episode in the history of the industrial age, as promoters launched new events and venues to entertain growing urban populations. Walking races also had many of the same features as contemporary sports culture, from doping scandals to merchandise featuring the star walkers. Pedestrianism was short-lived. But while the sport lasted, the great long-distance walkers were featured in newspapers and on cigarette cards, and crowds followed the races in massive halls and at local telegraph stations.

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Stefan Rinke and Kay Schiller (eds.)The FIFA World Cup 1930-2010: Politics, Commerce, Spectacle and Identities

August 1, 2014

The history of globalization is found in more than international political organizations and multinational corporations, free-trade agrteements and foreign direct investments, satellite communications and special export zones.  When looking at the forces that have driven globalization over the last decades, we must also look to football and especially the World Cup.  Indeed, there is no [...]

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In industrial parks, converted warehouses, and pole barns across the country, a fitness revolution is taking place. It’s a revolution, according to J.C. Herz, that’s leading us not so much forward as back, into what she calls “the primal future of fitness.” This future is one in which fitness connects us with the deep memories [...]

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June 24, 2014

Passion. Flair. Instinct. Improvisation. As the World Cup advances to the knockout stage, you’ll hear these terms associated with the football styles of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico rather than those of Belgium and Germany.  As historians Roger Kittleson and Joshua Nadel explain, the soccer cultures of Brazil and other countries of Latin America have long [...]

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Travis VoganKeepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media

May 16, 2014

Last weekend was the NFL Draft, the annual event when teams select college players who have shown the talent to advance to the professional ranks.  Staged at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live on two cable networks, and surrounded by ceaseless media attention and analysis, the Draft is the spring anchor-point of the [...]

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Lucia TrimburCome Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason’s Gym

April 25, 2014

Imagine a boxing gym. What probably comes to mind is a large, run-down room on the upper floor of an old brick building, somewhere in a trash-strewn, depressed neighborhood. The room echoes with the thud of the heavy bag, the rat-tat-tat of the speed bag, the quick whisks of the jump rope. The men training [...]

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Lincoln HarveyA Brief Theology of Sport

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Does God care who wins the game? According to a recent survey, plenty of American fans think so.  The Public Religion Research Institute found that a quarter of fans said that they had prayed to God for a favorable outcome to a game.  Add in those who practice some personal ritual in the hope that [...]

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Brett Hutchins & David RoweSport Beyond Television: The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport

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Twenty years ago, when I was studying abroad in Europe, the only way to keep track of my teams back in the US was to sneak looks in The International Herald Tribune at the newspaper kiosk (the price of the paper was beyond my meager budget).  Twelve years after that, when I returned to Europe [...]

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Each year, following the end of the NFL season, there is a blizzard of activity as teams with disappointing records fire their head coaches and look for the new leader who will turn things around.  This year, seven teams fired their coaches and spent the next weeks searching for a replacement among the pool of [...]

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Jules BoykoffCelebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games

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The 22nd Winter Olympics are underway.  It’s safe to say that the lead-up has not gone smoothly.  Of course, there have been the obligatory cost overruns, crony contracts, displacement of locals, and environmental despoliation–all the problems we’ve seen with past Olympics.  But this year’s games have come with new wrinkles.  It’s possible, though, that the various [...]

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