Guelph-Sorbonne Conference Synopses

Donna Landry.

“’Lux ex oriente’: The Sporting Art of George Stubbs and the Eastern Horse.”

Within the riding houses of eighteenth-century London and Edinburgh, discourses of liberty and enlightenment were circulated, embodied, and performed. During the second half of the eighteenth-century, riding houses became increasingly popular as commercial ventures and comparatively democratised spaces that witnessed the mixing of genders, classes, ages, races and political leanings under one roof. A place in which the traditionally scientific horsemanship of the manège was joined by the new, liberty-loving hunting seat, Angelo’s Academy, for example, was renowned for social interaction and political debates from a decidedly mixed clientele, including celebrities such as John Wilkes, the Chevalier d’Eon, Julius Soubise, Omai the Tahitian, the Duke of York, and the painter George Stubbs. Stubbs struggled to exemplify how a mere ‘horse-painter’ could couple truth to nature with neoclassical sophistication and scientific innovation, ideas that are today understood as legacies of the Enlightenment. Stubbs was inspired by the horses imported from the Ottoman empire between 1650 and 1750, whose presence in Great Britain revolutionised sporting art as well as equestrian culture, raising questions about the cultural flows that produced Enlightenment in Britain.


Marius Kwint.

“Descartes Goes to the Circus: Views of the Brute Creation in Performance, c. 1750-1850.”

In this talk, I will consider how performances of trained humans and other animals during the period were framed first in terms of Enlightenment rationalism, and later to furnish Romantic spectacles of sublime and untamed nature. The circus was reinvented as a modern form of commercial entertainment in eighteenth-century London and Paris. Attempting to present itself as rational and civilized, it both reflected scientific trends in the theory of the psyche or soul, and was credited to a surprising degree with helping to change prevailing attitudes towards animals. My discussion will call upon visual evidence from advertisements and cartoons as well as the work of painters including Stubbs, Gericault and Delacroix. 

Philip Dine

“Horse racing in early colonial Algeria: from Anglophilia to Arabomania.”

While the historical coincidence of colonization and ‘sportization’ has been widely explored in the British context, France has typically been assumed to have colonized rather differently. Yet the simultaneous rise of horse racing as France’s first mass sporting spectacle and of Algeria as its most important colony was anything but a chance occurrence. With the backing of the July Monarchy (1830-1848) and the Second Empire (1851-1870), racing became the focus of sustained moral and material investment. A combination of cultural prejudices and historical circumstances thus encouraged a remarkable sporting experiment in Algeria, where influential cavalry officers sought to turn horse racing into a tool of colonial policy. This paper will offer a close reading of sporting practices and their supporting discourses, as communicated by texts including ethnographic studies, travel memoirs, military reports and newspaper accounts. Such representations reveal a sports-inflected reflection on and even, briefly, an attempted renegotiation of prevailing colonial power relations. However, with the ending of direct military rule in 1858 and the onset of large-scale civilian settlement in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, racing’s early promise of mutually respectful contact between colonizer and colonized gave way to an exclusively Eurocentric culture that would be typical of later sporting developments in the territory, as of much else.


John McLeod.

“Colonial Sport and Postcolonial Writing.”

This paper is predicated on a series of questions, each of which concerns the distinctly postcolonial fortunes of sport in a globalised, transcultural world.  If sport during colonial history became a vital way of performing national formations, either imperious or anti-colonial, what has happened to the pursuit of sport in a postcolonial, but not postimperial, globalised milieu?  Can sport still be a mode of postcolonial dissidence, or does its postcolonial agency belong instead to the days of colonial settlement rather than the advent of a globalised imperium?  Is there a dissident transcultural aesthetics or politics of sport to be found?  Might the creative representation of sport’s global reach open a space for transcultural critique?  One wonders if sport (its performance, its spectating, its televising) retains the capacity to shape points of contact and connection that function transculturally, or suggest emergent ways of bonding, belonging and being that supersede the modern rhetoric of nation-states, chauvinistic nationalisms and reactionary indigeneities.  To put all this more bluntly, and as I shall ultimately ask: is there still a postcolonialism of sport?


Frans De Bruyn.

“Angling, Hunting, and Shooting: Arts of Rural Sport and the Art of Poetry, 1650-1800.”

Texts inspired by the georgic tradition (Hesiod and Virgil) took many forms in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  A persistent generic marker of such writing, however, whether in formal poetic imitations of Virgil’s Georgics, prose scientific treatises, or technical manuals on husbandry, is its authorial self-reflexivity, as the author considers the task of writing in the process of performing it. This meta-critical reflection on the part of the georgic writer is characteristically framed by analogy with the rules and processes of the art under discussion in the text; thus, Virgil, in a pun on the Latin word versus, which designates both turning a “furrow” and turning a “line of verse,” compares his poetic labors with the farmer’s task of plowing his land. Poetry of rural sport in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (which I include in this discussion as an honourary text), also manifests this reflexiveness, albeit sometimes in an attenuated way. However, the nature of the activity under consideration complicates the georgically inspired analogy between the writer’s art and that of the hunter, shooter, or fisher. Insofar as these activities are arts that require practice and skill they can be treated “georgically,” as it were, with a discussion of the processes and rules of the art, but insofar as they are conceived of as sports, with prominent elements of pleasure and artifice, the analogy between the art of the poet and that of the sportsman introduces a different (though not unrelated) conception of authorial labour. It also modifies the generic conceptions with which these writers are working. I my paper I propose to explore these questions in more detail.”


Daniel O’Quinn.

“Funereal Games: Sporting Events, Historical Encounters, Artistic Figures”

Despite being strongly discouraged by her friends and relatives who feared for her safety, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out from London with her husband in August 1716 on a diplomatic mission that took them through Europe to Constantinople.  Hoping to stay for a minimum of five years, Lady Mary was the first English woman to write about her travels in Ottoman lands and her observations serve as one of the most important records of intercultural exchange between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire. As British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Edward Wortley Montagu was charged with the daunting task of negotiating an end to the Austro-Turkish war that had broken out in 1716.  Because so much of the scholarship on Montagu has focused on Lady Mary’s representation of Ottoman culture very little has been said either about her stay in Austria–in spite of the fact that the “European” portion of the Letter-Book takes up half of the text–or about the way that geo-political conflict permeates the letters.  This essay attempts to correct these critical lapses by attending to Lady Mary’s representation of a women’s shooting match in Vienna.  It is one of the earliest accounts of a sporting event written by a woman and I believe it reveals a great deal not only about Montagu’s rhetorical strategies in the letters, but also about the complex ways in which bodily acts are mediated in her text.  The actions of these gun-wielding women are afforded far more cultural significance than they would seem to warrant and they point to very subtle historical arguments about war and empire.  These historical arguments rely on a retroactive allusion to one of the most famous representations of sport in all of literature: the archery contest held in honor of Anchises in Book V of the Aeneid.  Both Virgil’s archery contest and Montagu’s allusion to it are temporally complex because they impinge on the present action of the narrative and yet refer to events well in the future.  My intention is to demonstrate how these temporal folds allow Montagu to engage with the very imperial conflict that was the focus of her husband’s mediation. 


John Whale.

“Writing Fighting 1780-1830”

This paper addresses the nature of writing which represents pugilism and its attendant culture in late Georgian England from 1780-1825. It does so by considering the conflicted work of two of its most prolific journalists: Pierce Egan and Jon Badcock. The two represent one of the key divisions within the unstable, embattled, and constantly shifting subcultural world of popular prize-fighting: the sentimentalist and the self-proclaimed realist. Badcock defines himself as perhaps the most energetic and irascible presence in late Georgian sports writing by engaging in conflict with Egan. In his unstinting attempts to undermine his rival’s reputation, Badcock promotes a radically different identity for the role of editor and anthologizer in the field of sporting literature and its closely associated areas of slang language dictionaries and insider guides to the metropolis. Egan might be said to adopt a gentlemanly, objective, and often more polite literary persona which pushes his texts towards romance, offering what might be seen as euphemistic accounts of the sport’s violence. Though he can be bullish in his vindication of sporting values, for the most part Egan eschews the vulgarity of personal involvement and expressions of careerist ego. Badcock has no such compunction about self-promotion and coming forward – or ‘coming out’ as he puts it – and parading himself combatively before the public with a series of verbal assaults upon his competitors and a string of personal vindications. He even dares to expose the corruption and chicanery of the popular sports he writes about, including the danger to the future of boxing posed by fixing matches. Throughout his work there is a sustained – if often hectic and uncontrolled – assault upon established authority. As a result of this combative mode, part of Badcock’s function in this literature of popular amusements is to articulate and self-consciously draw attention to the considerable labours involved in the production of its sporting and scientific miscellanies, its lexicographical enterprises, and its numerous dictionaries of slang. At the same time as he assiduously debunks Egan’s standing as the ‘historian’ of the sport, he adopts the more workmanlike soubriquets of ‘scribe’, ‘quill man’,  and ‘an Operator’ as his preferred terms for defining the demanding role of author in this competitive form of popular chronicling.


Sharon Harrow. 

“Boxing for England: Daniel Mendoza and the Theatre of Sport.”

In “Boxing for England: Daniel Mendoza and the Theater of Sport” Sharon Harrow argues that boxing literature played a central role in shaping English attitudes toward sport and theatricality, as well as discourses of nationalism and ethnicity.  As the heavyweight Champion of England, Mendoza turned his Jewishness and fame to account on many stages and in a boxing manual and memoir, all of which Harrow situates along the literary and cultural trajectory of sports literature across the century.


Alexander Regier.

“What is Training?”

Basically, the paper will discuss what an analysis eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theories of sports training (and the resulting practical bodily regimes) can bring to our understanding of how sports became (and still is) a central place for the codification of the body. I will be looking at texts as varied as as Egan’s Boxiana (1813-29), Somer-Smith’s essay ‘Athletic Training’ (1884), Archibald McMacLaren’s Training in Theory and Practice  (1866), Trollope’s British Sports and Pasttimes (1868), all with a eye towards how there is an overlap between the emerging ideas of sports training and ideas of social order and aesthetics. The question that stands at the centre of all of these writings, namely “What is training?” turns out to be much more than a simple, technical query, but rather points to a much larger theoretical (political, aesthetics) point, for which sports becomes the most important, but overlooked, instance. 


Alexis Tadié.

“The Birth of Modern Tennis.”

The birth of modern tennis is generally considered to be December 1873, when Major Walter C. Wingfield patented in London the equipment and rules of the game of Sphairistikè. But the story is of course slightly more complicated with various actors, in particular Harry Gem and Augurio Pereira, claiming a stake in the invention. One of the issues is to understand how tennis, which took the world by storm, managed to take over from the now largely defunct sport of real tennis (jeu de paume). In investigating the continuities between real tennis and lawn tennis, I will look both at the history of the game(s), and at the cultural representations that surround them, in the visual arts and in literature.


Simon Bainbridge.

“Romanticism and the Invention of Mountaineering.”

This paper will argue that mountaineering in Britain developed as a participatory sport during the Romantic period and will examine the mutually shaping relationship between the emergent sport and the period’s literature. It will explore the origins of the activity in the eighteenth century, looking at how the pursuits of the natural sciences, the development of the antiquarian and the picturesque tour, and the culture of curiosity contributed to the evolution of mountain climbing as a leisure pursuit participated in by an expanding sector of society. Analysing literature by canonical writers including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Byron within the broader context of the emerging literature of mountaineering, the paper will explore a number of the key issues raised by the development of mountain climbing in the Romantic period, including: the aesthetics of ascent and the poetics and politics of summit vision; climbing as an embodied practice that stimulated literary creativity; the changing identity of the ‘mountaineer’ and its importance for the Romantic-period writer; the gender politics of climbing; and the influence of romanticism on the development of mountaineering in the nineteenth century.


Supriya Chaudhuri.

“Pilgrim, Pundit, Photographer, Spy: the ambiguous origins of mountaineering in India.”

Mountaineering is a relatively late sporting discipline, emerging in around the mid-nineteenth century and establishing itself through the founding of the Alpine Club in 1857. The Himalayas have sometimes been described as the ‘last frontier’ for sport mountaineers, but mountaineering in India in fact bears witness to the problematic distinctions surrounding sport itself. The ice-caves, glaciers and lower peaks of the Himalayas, sacred to many Hindus, attracted pilgrims from an early date, but such religious travellers would not have considered themselves to be sportspersons. Much early Himalayan exploration was in the interests of mapping and surveying, a task for which Indians were employed in the capacity of ‘pundits’, or expert informants who might also be called upon to act as spies, especially in regions not yet under British rule. The lure of the sublime, as represented by the world’s highest mountain ranges, also drew late Victorian photographers like Samuel Bourne, who produced exceptional work after journeys made in the mid-1860s. Sport mountaineering remained in some ways tangential and superfluous to these interests, and very few Indians were involved in such pursuits – except in the capacity of porters – until after 1947. My paper will look at the ambiguous and uncertain conditions of emergence of the discipline of mountaineering in India to ask some questions about the nature of sport.  




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