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    Games, Greek and Pluck: Athleticism, Classicism and Elite British Education, 1850-1914

    Carter, Andrew Kerr (2023) Games, Greek and Pluck: Athleticism, Classicism and Elite British Education, 1850-1914. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    The leading English public schools were dominated in the second half of the nineteenth century by classicism and athleticism, two strands of school life that have been studied as either competing, focusing on struggles for control between athletes and aesthetes, or else entirely separate. This thesis rejects this siloed approach and explores the ways in which classicism and athleticism were closely entwined within public schools and elite universities, and how classical ideas impacted on the reorganisation and reform of sport emanating from these institutions between 1850 and 1914. As a prerequisite for entry to elite public schools, university and many professions, classical education was used as an indicator of gentlemanly status and was deliberately exploited to create an effective barrier to exclude those from the lower classes. Simultaneously, classical ideas and imagery informed elite males’ conceptions of manliness and masculinity, and this was reflected in the content of school magazines, which have been important sources for this research. Contemporary movements, such as muscular Christianity, were also influenced as much by Graeco-Roman as Judeo-Christian traditions. The study of ancient sport was coloured by Victorian ideas of sport and sportsmanship which produced a distorted and over-familiar view of Greek games. This was used to justify resistance to working-class participation, as well as to illustrate the possible debilitating consequences of commercialisation. Using a variety of methodologies, including prosopography and biography, and a range of sources, many of them produced by the schools, this thesis demonstrates how a few comparatively small and overlapping networks of public schoolmasters, university classics tutors, and their pupils, were instrumental in overseeing the transformation of sport in late-Victorian Britain, and how the Hellenism of these groups, particularly those involved in rowing, shaped attitudes towards amateurism and professionalism, and influenced the culture of the modern Olympic movement.

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