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Faculty scholar: Nathan argues that baseball no longer holds lock on national psyche

April 23, 2014

Faculty scholar: Nathan argues that baseball no longer holds lock on national psyche

April 23, 2014

In time to mark the opening of the 2014 baseball season, the International Journal of the History of Sport has published “Baseball as the National Pastime: A Fiction Whose Time Has Passed,” by Dan Nathan, associate professor and chair of Skidmore’s Department of American Studies. His article is part of a special issue on American National Pastimes, edited by Mark Dyreson and Jaime Schultz of Penn State University.

Those who attended the spring-semester Skidmore Research Colloquium got a preview of the essay when Nathan shared his scholarship with an enthusiastic audience of colleagues, many of them ardent baseball fans.

A noted sports historian who used baseball as the foundation for his first book, Saying It’s So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal (2003), Nathan’s article draws on a number of disciplines, including anthropology, economics, sociology, history, and literature, to trace the growth and impact of baseball on American life.

Nathan quotes but disagrees with Allen Guttmann, one of his favorite scholars. An eminent historian, Guttmann explains, “Once a game is part of a culture, it’s there to stay. Chronological priority becomes cultural preference.” Nathan underscores this point, noting, “Cultural preference needs to be taken seriously. To take root in the first place, a pastime needs fertile soil and it needs to be nurtured…. In this way, pastimes are always contingent, ‘situated’, linked to particular historical, political, economic and cultural circumstances.”

He cites those circumstances throughout his article to explain how baseball managed, over more than a century, to rise to the level of a “national pastime.” And those same circumstances significantly influence his conclusion that “baseball’s self-pronounced, fictional claim to being the ‘national-pastime’ has run its course…. sacked by the NFL and may other sports and pastimes in this increasingly fragmented, heterogeneous culture.”

Despite this conclusion, Nathan asserts: “Baseball still matters (and is profitable) in this country without being the ‘national pastime’. Today, baseball matters differently than in the past, real and imagined.”

Nathan’s “Baseball as the National Pastime: A Fiction Whose Time Has Passed” appears in the International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 31, No. 1-2, published by Routledge. Click here to read the article.

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