Sports in American History and Society
Seminar - UHON 301

Instructor(s): Ryan Swanson

Course Description

This is an asynchronous, online, Honors College course.  Whew.  But more tellingly, this course is an analysis of American history and society using sport.  It’s not a sports class.  We live in a sports obsessed society.  The sports connection starts young.  Millions of American boys and girls spend their afternoons and weekends playing in soccer leagues and on t-ball teams.  The kids might do it for the post-game popsicles, but their parents yell at the referees and spend increasing amounts of money for these supposedly formative experiences.  Beyond the children, high school, college, and professional sports serve as powerful community building institutions.  These athletic endeavors help define American identity, perhaps as powerfully as political, religious or media constructs do.  Take the Super Bowl for example.  Super Bowl Sunday is a treasured American holiday.  It demonstrates Americans’ fondness for (among other things) competition, violence, consumerism, and food.  The day has become such a ubiquitous part of American life that I always wonder who these people are that reportedly don’t watch the big game.  What are they doing?   

In this course we will explore the role of sports in American society from a historical perspective.  How, we will ask, did sports become so important?  What positives and negatives result from America’s unique sporting construct?  In doing so we will read several books, investigate primary sources such as sports contracts and statistics, and we will assess the role of Hollywood in creating American sports lore.  While one might argue that a game is just a game, I think you’ll be convinced by the end of the semester that sports are an invaluable lens by which to examine American society.   


In this course will read a broad variety of sports related books and articles.  We’ll also utilize podcasts and documentaries.   


Students will be graded upon their participation, writing, and special projects.

About the Instructor(s): Ryan Swanson

Ryan Swanson is an Associate Professor of history, in the Honors College, at the University of New Mexico. He also serves as the Director of the Lobo Scholars Program.  He earned his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University 2008.  His latest book, The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete, came out in 2019.  He will learn to juggle someday.