Sport heritage is attracting some academic attention as of late, which has resulted in a few new book titles being released over the last couple of years. One of the best of the new sport heritage texts is Representing the Sporting Past in Museums and Halls of Fame edited by Murray G. Phillips.
Full disclosure: I reviewed this text for Annals of Leisure Research – the full review is available here. However, in year or so since that review was published, I have found that this text to be an invaluable resource – one which I return to time and time again. Simply put, Phillips’ brings a historian’s viewpoint to sport heritage without seeing heritage as some lesser form of history. Rather, he (and many of his authors) see heritage as something different, in particular noting that the purpose and outcomes of sport heritage are different than sport history – though the two often overlap. Phillips’ introduction and conclusion are particularly impressive, as they push the boundaries of what a sport museum is, what it looks like, and how it might present the sporting past. Indeed, there is still something about the team/corporate/traditional sports museums, but Phillips considers a broader interpretation of the word “museum” and “sport” and, as a result, helps we sport heritage researchers to think differently about our area of interest.
Forgive, but I shall borrow from my original review to highlight some of the chapters I found to be particularly interesting:
The chapters in this text are, by and large, interesting and engaging, though a few notable contributions stand out from the rest. Mark O’Neill and Gary Osmond’s chapter about the changing use of Phar Lap, the champion Australian racehorse, seamlessly fuses the work of the historian with that of the heritage manager, understanding that museum artefacts have their own history and are interpreted differently depending on the needs and values of the present in which they exist. Douglas A. Brown’s chapter about the Whyte Museum in Banff, Canada reveals that, though the museum rarely explicitly exhibits sport history, its existence is largely the result of the Canadian Rockies having a sport tourism heritage through mountaineering, skiing, and outdoor recreation. Wray Vamplew’s examination of four London-based sports museums notes the evolution of some sports exhibits to be more diverse and critical in terms of topics, though not all sports museums fully embrace a broader and more challenging interpretation of the sporting past. Finally, both Douglas Booth’s examination of Bondi Park and Australian beach culture, and Jaime Schultz’s discussion of commemoration and memorialization of segregation-era sport and recreation pasts, challenges our understanding of what constitutes a sports museum and sport heritage.
There were a couple of quibbles I had, mainly over the sometimes dismissive tone some authors took over touristic consumption of sport heritage, but all-in-all this is an excellent text for those working in or researching sport heritage, or those who simply have an interest in the topic. I expect that the text is still somewhat expensive, so it is suggested that you may wish to consult your university’s library for a copy.