Sports and Sociabilities in the Long Eighteenth Century

Sports and Sociability in the Long Eighteenth Century

Sorbonne Université, 13-14 October 2022

Conference organized by Caroline Bertonèche (Université Grenoble Alpes) and Alexis Tadié (Sorbonne University) in the framework of the H2020 DIGITENS project.

This conference will investigate the intricate relationships between sports and literature and the arts in the long eighteenth century. Sports are a particular good place to reflect on sociability, while the cultural approach enables an understanding of sports which goes beyond their history. We understand the place of sports in our societies if we look at their cultural representations and at the work they do.

Cultural representations of sports are ubiquitous in the long eighteenth century, and this conference provides an opportunity to explore them. For example, expressive forms intimately connected with the representation of sports are exemplary in books describing hunting, hawking, and fishing, which began to circulate from the second half of the seventeenth century. They contributed to the emergence of a culture of leisure and recreation, and induced a “recreation of a recreation,” to borrow the Compleat Angler’s words which celebrate both the pleasures of angling and the writing about angling. The eighteenth century saw the laying out of the rules of certain games, such as cricket, golf, or pugilism, as well as the birth of sports clubs, such as the Jockey Club or the Maylebone Cricket Club in England. But although sporting clubs are usually associated with the organisation of sports, they were initially social clubs. Simultaneously, paintings and texts, sometimes illustrated, started to flourish. For example, the portrayal of horses has long been identified with a form of artistic representation described as “Sporting Art” (Deuchar 1988). Although the category is a twentieth-century label, various expressions were used in the eighteenth century to describe such paintings or their authors: sporting pieces, horse-painters, etc. The word “mountaineering” was first coined by Coleridge. And in an entirely different field, the development of pugilism was inseparable from the debates over the modes of writing about it (Hazlitt 1822). Fighters like Daniel Mendoza, who authored The Art of Boxing in 1798, became icons, and were paraded on the stages of theatres in London. Keats among whose books was a volume called Fencing Familiarized was an excellent boxer and had more than an interest in pugilism while Byron’s sporting achievements belong to his mythology. Writing about fights, using the language of the “Fancy”, characterizes much of early nineteenth century writings, from Pierce Egan to William Hazlitt.

The cultures of sports define and project social and cultural issues, because they are places of contest, where certain crucial social issues are articulated. The issue of race, for instance, is central in the development of sports and was apparent as early as the eighteenth century when former slave Bill Richmond, who was brought to England from America at the age of fourteen to be a servant to the Duke of Northumberland, became a fighter and later a promoter of fights. Tom Molineaux, a former slave from Virginia, came to England to fight local champion Tom Crib. The conference will therefore seek to reflect on a variety of social issues such as race, gender or violence through the lens of sports and of their cultural mediations. It will investigate the modes of sociability induced by the practice of sports. It hopes to reflect on their literary and artistic expressions.

Papers are invited on any of the following issues while contributions dealing with other topics are also welcome:

  • The emergence of sports writing
  • The social worlds of sports
  • Popular sports of the eighteenth century
  • Local games
  • The place of sports in eighteenth-century poetry
  • Sports and their public
  • Sports and education
  • Sports clubs
  • Sports and the colonies
  • Sports and the environment
  • Women and sports in the eighteenth century

Please send a 300-400 word abstract and a short bio to: and

Deadline: 31 March 2022

Selective bibliography:

BAINBRIDGE, Simon, Mountaineering and British Romanticism: The Literary Cultures of Climbing. 1770-1836 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

— “Writing from ‘perilous ridge’: Romanticism and the Invention of Rock Climbing”, Romanticism, 19, 3 (2013), 246-260

DEUCHAR, Stephen, Sporting Art in Eighteenth Century England: a Social and Political History (New Haven, Yale UP, 1988)

DYRESON, Mark, MCCLELLAND, John & VAMPLEW, Wray, A Cultural History of Sport (London: Bloomsbury, 2021). In particular volume 4: A Cultural History of Sport in the Enlightenment, ed. Rebekka von Mallinckrodt.

ELIAS, Norbert & DUNNING, Eric, Sport et civilisation: la violence maîtrisée (Paris: Fayard, 1994)

GRIFFIN, Emma, Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain since 1066 (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2008)

HARROW, Sharon (ed.), British Sporting Literature and Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015)

LAKE, Robert J., A Social History of Tennis in Britain (London: Routledge, 2015)

LANDRY, Donna, The Invention of the Countryside: Hunting, Walking, and Ecology in English literature, 1671-1831 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

MOORE, Jane, “Modern Manners: Regency Boxing and Romantic Sociability”, Romanticism, 19, 3 (2013), 271-290

McCLELLAND, John & MERRILEES, Brian, Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe (Toronto: Toronto UP, 2010) in MULLAN, John, What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)

MOORE, Jane, “Modern Manners: Regency Boxing and Romantic Sociability”, Romanticism, 19, 3 (2013), 271-290

O’QUINN, Daniel, “Proxy Israelites: Staging Ethnic Violence in the Ring & in the Pit”, in GILMARTIN, Kevin (ed.), Sociable Places. Locating Culture in Romantic Period Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017)

— & TADIÉ, Alexis, Sporting Cultures 1650-1850 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018)

PAULIN, Tom & CHANDLER, David (eds.), The Fight and Other Writings by William Hazlitt (London: Penguin Books, 2000)

STRACHAN, John, “Romanticism and Sport”, Romanticism, 19, 3 (2013), 233-245

TADIÉ, Alexis, Le tennis est un art. Du court à l’écran (Paris: Sorbonne Essais, 2020)

TURCOT, Laurent, Sports et loisirs: Une histoire des origines à nos jours (Paris: Gallimard, 2016)

WHALE, John, “Daniel Mendoza's Contests of Identity: Masculinity, Ethnicity and Nation in Georgian Prize-fighting”, Romanticism, 14, 3 (2008), 259-271

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