CONCEPT: Sport reflects the society in which it is played, and it is only natural that athletic practice in the 21st century differs in countless ways from that of ancient Greece. Even so, many modern athletic competitions (particularly those performed under the umbrella title of â€œtrack and fieldâ€) often draw inspiration from or conspicuously emulate ancient precedents. What may first appear to be historical continuities are often, in fact, what Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger called â€œinvented traditionsâ€ â€” novel cultural practices which nevertheless present themselves with an aged patina. In many respects, modern track and field owes its form more to the practices and sensibilities of late 19th-century western Europe than to ancient Greece. Still, ancient Greek athletics exert a peculiar force on these events, shaping not only how the competitions are conducted, but also how we think about athletics and their meaning in society. Even where modern practice departs most obviously from ancient precedent, the cultural legacy of Greek athletics still exerts influence. As we have had several occasions to observe in class, even a sport as ostensibly simple as a footrace involves countless decisions regarding participants, practices, written rules and unwritten conventions. A detailed and nuanced comparison of the ancient and modern versions of a specific event or practice has the potential to sharpen our understanding, and enhance our appreciation, of competition and culture.
ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS: In this assignment students explore some of the ways, obvious or subtle, in which ancient and modern athletic practices differ. Students will write a compare-contrast analysis, on a topic determined in consultation with the instructional staff that pertains to a certain specific aspect of both ancient and modern sport. Studies may range from the concrete and narrow (e.g., the form of the javelin) to the conceptual and broad (e.g., how ancient Greek city-states and modern nation-states differ in their ideological and material support of athletes). In either case, the topic should be carefully selected and framed to allow for intelligent and meaningful analysis under the given constraints of a short report. Although much of the research for this project will be spent finding points of comparison or difference, the final report must also have some sort of original argument or thesis (i.e., a proposition with which a reader may either agree or disagree) that addresses how this specific aspect of sport reflects the society in which it is practiced. For example, a comparison of ancient and modern wrestling might argue that the modern introduction of weight-classes reflects improved standards and instruments for measurement, as well as a more populous and decentralized society. Ultimately, the goal of the assignment is not merely to highlight differences and similarities across 2,500 years of sport, but also to make thoughtful and informed guesses about what might explain those (dis)continuities.
STYLE: This report should be produced in polished academic prose, with citations (Chicago style preferred, others accepted so long as they are clear and consistent) of at least THREE outside resources.