Sunday, March 29, 2015

6-Day Heavy Light Routine - Norman Zale (1991)

Should You Give 100% All the Time?
Norman Zale (1991)

 "He maxes out on every set." 

How many times have you heard some 'expert' say that kind of thing. Or, to make it even more ridiculous, "Ol' Johnny gives 110% every workout."  

What the expert may (hopefully) really be trying to say is that the bodybuilder always exhibits total concentration and dedication to his workouts; he never quits trying. Ergo, he must be giving "110 % effort. 

Unfortunately, many lifters interpret this literally, especially beginners embarking on a bodybuilding program. They begin believing that to achieve results they must exert maximum effort at every workout. 

No one, not even the best developed, can give 100 % at every workout. It is physiologically impossible. A person cannot train that way. If any champion bodybuilder or lifter actually trained that way at every workout they wouldn't last more than a couple of weeks at the longest. They'd drop from exhaustion and injuries. 

Lee Haney, multiple Mr. Olympia winner, puts out a maximum or near maximum effort for each bodypart no more than once a week, and for the most part even less often than this. This is not to imply that his other workouts are easy, with little or no effort and stress. Not at all. Many of them are physically stressful, but not all of them are all-out 100 %.

Repeated all-out or near all-out workouts do not provide the body with enough time and energy to recover and may, therefore, cause staleness or a regression in strength and muscular development. Picture a beginner starting a program with the idea that each workout must be a total effort. Before long the misguided soul will be unable or unwilling to continue, and either quit altogether or start thinking the whole thing is a lie and a waste of time.

A bodybuilder, or any athlete (hobbyist or elite) cannot continue to do more and more each day without adequate recovery and recuperation, for it is during this non-workout time that the muscles grow larger and/or stronger. One of the primary reasons that many people fail to stick with a program is that they push themselves too hard each workout because they have been misled about how hard they are required to train to make satisfactory progress. Photos in the magazines of top lifters working (or posing as if working) to the max can be a misrepresentation of what their day to day workout intensity. And if a highly skilled and experienced bodybuilder or lifter cannot sustain daily max or near-max effort, how can an intermediate or beginner?

There are two basic principles that must be observed if you expect to make progress with your training program:

1) your body and muscles must be subjected to greater stress than they are accustomed to, and
2) appropriate recovery time must be allowed.

The muscles that are subjected to slightly greater stress than usual will respond to the stress by growing stronger and/or larger. They will adapt during the recovery or rest period and will then be ready for additional stress.

If, however, the stress is too great or the recovery is insufficient, your body will not adapt, and little or no improvement will occur. In fact, you may actually deteriorate by suffering an injury, getting weaker and/or losing muscle size.

Remember, the body building process does not occur while you are exercising -- the stress provided by the exercising merely provides the opportunity for improvement. The repair and development occur during recovery, be it passive or active.

Your body generally requires 36 to 48 hours to recover from a hard workout, and this can vary in each individual at different times. It has been reported that it requires 10 to 14 days to recover from the all-out type of effort that elite marathon runners put out during their 26 mile jaunts. Aren't you glad that you lift weights!

Your muscles consume a great deal of glycogen -- the sugar used for contractions -- during a strenuous workout, and it takes time for your body to refuel, to restore glycogen to the muscle tissues, longer if your diet has been deficient in certain nutrients. Repeated heavy workouts, day after day, can cause a serious glycogen depletion, resulting in exhaustion. However, each time the glycogen level is lowered by your training, the tissues tend to super-replenish glycogen.

After a workout, your muscles can absorb a greater supply of glycogen, provided an adequate recovery period is allowed and appropriately sufficient nutrients are ingested. The increase in your muscles' capacity to absorb glycogen is a key factor in developing both muscle size and endurance.

The repair of stressed muscle fibers and connective tissue also occurs during recovery. Muscle soreness is largely caused by micro trauma, microscopic tears, and damage to the muscles. These tissues need time to repair. The repair eases the soreness and helps to develop larger and/or stronger muscles.

It is important to keep in mind that recovery does not necessarily mean complete rest. It will often occur more quickly where heavy, stressful workouts are followed by milder and lighter workouts. The increased circulation from the easy-type training accelerates the recovery process.

To put this into practice, a six-day bodybuilding split might look like this:

Monday - Heavy chest/back.
Tuesday - Light lower body.
Wednesday - Heavy shoulders/arms.
Thursday - Light chest/back.
Friday - Heavy lower body.
Saturday - Light shoulders/arms.

As you can see, each bodypart, or group of muscles (or lift if you're more of a lifter than a bodybuilder), is worked twice a week. Note that heavy workouts are alternated with light workouts and it is not necessary, as many do, to take all their heavy workouts in a row and then follow with all of the lighter and medium workouts.

It is not just the same muscles but the whole body that must recover before muscle growth and/or strength will take place. 

Yes, train hard and heavy but follow each heavy workout with a light training session, one that makes you feel glad that you came to the gym.

Powerlifting/Bodybuilding Routine - Vince Gironda (I shit you not)

Roger Estep

Powerlifting/Bodybuilding Routine
Vince Gironda (1990)

As always, much will depend upon your genetic potential and body type, but you can successfully combine bodybuilding and powerlifting. Franco Columbu is the most obvious example. In the powerlifting world men like Doug Young, Dave Shaw, Jim Cash and Roger Estep have very balanced muscular builds despite being powerlifters. But you will have to do more than just a few curls and some ab work along with the three powerlifts to get big and strong.

Follow a more traditional bodybuilding routine but stress the power lifts and do less reps and more weight in your exercises. For example, a four day routine done this way:

Day 1 and 3 (Monday/Thursday)

Legs -

Squat - 1 x 10, 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 2.
Leg Press - 4 x 8.
Leg Curl - 4 x 6-10.
Calf Raise - 4 x 10-15.

Back -

Deadlift - 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 2.
Bent Row - 1 x 10, 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 5, 1 x 4.
Weighted Situp - 3 x 15-20.

Day 2 and 4 (Tuesday/Friday)

Chest -

Bench Press - 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 1, 3 x 8-10.
Low Incline Flyes - 4 x 8-10.

Delts -

Press Behind Neck - 4 x 6-8.
Laterals - 4 x 6-8.
Close Grip Triceps Bench Press - 4 x 6-8.
Decline EZ Triceps Extension - 4 x 8-10.


Barbell Curl - 4 x 6-8.
Reverse Curl - 4 x 6-8.
Wrist Curl - 4 x 15.

This is an example of a combination powerlifting/bodybuilding routine, and appropriate substitutions can be made depending on the individual.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Joe Gold Interview - Laurie Golder

Mr. Gold ''set the tone for the gym (early Gold's) -- a tough-minded place where the only music was grunting and sweating.'' -- Mike Uretz, president of World Gym, attorney for Joe Gold.

Ric Drasin interview with Mike Uretz talking about some of the more interesting members from the early days of Gold's. 

 Decades ago, a young Austrian with the biggest biceps the world had ever seen came strutting into a small gym on the West Coast called Gold's At almost precisely that moment, something in the universe clicked. A feeling came over the gym that something special was happening or about to happen. Here was a man with so much charisma or magic or animal magnetism or whatever you want to call it that it literally affected everybody. This feeling started to spread out of Gold's and into the streets and byways of Los Angeles, and it began to attract people. At first, it was just other bodybuilders who came to Gold's to experience the phenomenon. Then, photographers and journalists and plain ole people from Kansas or wherever tourists come from wanted to see what was going on in this small gym.

Appropriately, the place became known as "the Mecca." And that name comes pretty close to capturing what Gold's Gym used to be. People eventually came from all over the world to be a part of this almost religious experience.

Would bodybuilding be as popular today had Arnold come to this country and begun working out at 24-Hour Fitness or Bally's or any one of those other cookie-cutter gyms? [Imagine it at a CrossFit Box.] Somehow, we don't think so.

Much of the credit has to go to the man who built Gold's. Up until the early '60s, there really were no true bodybuilding gyms. Instead, there were "spas" that smelled strongly of eucalyptus oil where people came in to take a sauna or sit on one of those machines that wobbles your fat away. Most had dumbbells lying in the corner, but they generally weren't the focal point.

Joe Gold -- sailor, strongman, bodybuilder and entrepreneur -- had a different idea, though. He had a vision of a place where bodybuilders, "muscleheads," could come in and train using heavy-duty equipment specially designed for bodybuilders. So he built Gold's Gym on a small lot in Venice, California. It became Arnold's home, the home to all the top bodybuilders of the day, and it became the subject of the hugely successful book and movie Pumping Iron. The rest, as they say, is history.

However, without Joe Gold's vision, things would, in all probability, be very, very different today. This magazine might not exist, nor might many of the others. Bodybuilding might still be the pursuit of a very select few loners and "freaks," instead of the fairly mainstream sport it is today.

[Allohistory. Counterfactualism, virtual history, or uchronia, also known as alternate history.
Speculating what might have happened if things had gone differently from the way they actually did.]

In an effort to find out more about our roots, we looked up the man who built Gold's Gym -- Joe Gold. He no longer owns Gold's Gym, having sold it years ago. Currently he heads World Gym, a very successful franchise of gyms around the country and, ironically, one of Gold's Gym's biggest rivals.

The Interview  

Joe Gold (JG): You got five minutes. Don't rush.

Muscle Media (MM): Uhhh, okay. Where were you born and raised?

JG: I was born and raised in East L.A. I'm a native Californian.

MM: How old a man are you (at time of interview), if you don't mind me asking?

JG: I'm 75.
[Born March 10, 1922. That puts this interview at around 1997.]

MM: What's the most significant thing you can remember about growing up?

JG: I grew up.

MM: I can see you're a man of many words.

JG: Okay, okay. When I was a kid, I got very interested in bodybuilding. I was about 12 years old. And the first thing I did -- I didn't know anything about working out, so I got myself a big, giant truck tire and a sledge hammer, and I used to swing that sledge hammer to build muscle. And I realized what it was I wanted to do. I had this old garage in front of my house in East L.A., and I build a neighborhood gym when I was about 13 or 14. All the kids in the neighborhood used to work out there.

MM: When did you first get the idea you wanted to start working out . . . ?

JG: (Without waiting for me to finish.) From the magazines, of course. My hero, though, was John Grimek. He had a fantastic body, and this was back in the '30s. 

MM: This was sort of a radical thing back then, wasn't it?

JG: [same initials as Grimek!] That's what I'm saying. We were all freaks, and when I was playing football, I was in high school, and the coach thought we were going to get musclebound, but all the guys who trained with weights made the team -- we were stronger than the other kids. I was young, 15 or 15, and I had a pretty fair body by the time I was 16.

MM: Had anybody ever heard of things like supplements or anything like that?

JG: My supplement was food. We knew enough to eat protein; I was always hungry for protein foods like meat and eggs and things like that. In that particular age group, when you're in your teens, you have all the natural hormones going through your body for growth -- the growth hormone, the testosterone, everything's natural, and you make tremendous gains during that period. The teens are the best time to work out -- ages 13 to 18.

MM: What was competition like back in the early days? That must have really been considered freaky.

JG: Basically, Bob Hoffman was in charge of those, so consequently, the contest were a little different than they are now. Lifting was his main love, so you had to sit through all the lifting before you got to the "bodybuilding." It was really a bore. It was a four-to-five-hour marathon.

 Bosco cartoon (by Harry Paschall) from Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health magazine illustrating Hoffman's preference for weightlifting over bodybuilding.

MM: What was your first show?

JG: I was in the Mr. Los Angeles. I took sixth. That was sometime after the war, maybe '47 or '48 -- something like that. We used to have pretty big crowds at the old auditorium down there at the corner of Ninth and Grand. They held 'em there for years and years, and then they moved them to other auditoriums. Ninth and Grand was a famous place for bodybuilding shows.

MM: What were you doing all this time to support yourself?

JG: I always worked. I was a sailor, or I worked in the studios as an extra; I supported myself, and the way I would do it was, when I would go to sea, I would save all my money, spend three or four months out on the oceans, then come back with a handful of money and then I would work in the studios as an extra. And in between when I didn't work, I picked up my unemployment. I always had some bucks in my pocket.

MM: When you say you were a sailor, you mean you were a . . . ?

JG: Merchant marine sailor. Sailed all over the world. Been to a lot of interesting places. The last time I sailed was to South America in 1978. I was in charge of the whole ship, the Santa Maria. I was the bosun. 

MM: I understand you used to do a traveling show with Mae West.

JG: It was 1954. They had a call for muscle guys at the beach, and I remember . . . you remember George Ackerman (a bodybuilder of the '50s who opened up a successful gym in Las Vegas)? He organized it and introduced us to Mae West. She lived downtown in Hollywood, so we all came off the beach -- there were about eight or nine of us at the time. Richard Dubois was the current Mr. America, and there was Armand Tanny. Do you remember these names? Myself, and some guys like Harry Schwarz -- he ended up owning a bunch of Vic Tanny gyms . . . I could keep on going with the names, but they won't mean anything to a lot of the readers, so what's the difference? 

MM: Was this a one-shot thing, or did you actually go on tour?

JG: We went on a tour. The first tour lasted a year. And actually, I got fired before the tour was over. I went on for ten months and then got fired. I went behind stage in Miami and was kissing this beautiful camera girl, but Mae West came by and threw daggers at me, and I knew I was getting fired, so I said, "I quit."

MM: That's kind of ironic, isn't it? The queen of sex firing you for kissing a camerawoman?

JG: She thought we should be with her. That's true. The manager said, "No, no, she's not going to fire you. You gotta come to Chicago." So I go to Chicago, and they fire me there.

MM: What did the act consist of? 

JG: It was a very unusual act for that time. All the guys were actual muscle guys. I'll give you a quick synopsis of the act. We'd come out wearing big, giant robes, and we flashed our robes at here, and her her expression would be, "Oh man, these guys are the greatest; they're hung like mules," and all this sort of shit, and we're all like Mr. Greece, and Mr. so-and-so, and the top guy in the show was Richard Dubois, Mr. America at that time. And then the next scene we'd come out in little bikini briefs, and we'd strip on the stage, and we'd go through a little dance act, and basically we were so clumsy to begin with, we couldn't keep time, but it really worked out fine because the audience went crazy when they saw us. And that's basically what it was.

MM: That must have been really wild . . . 

JG: Oh yeah. For that time, it was very risqué. I went out again with her in '56 -- she hired me back, and we went out again in '59.

MM: She forgave you, right?

JG: Well, she had nobody else. Plus she liked me.

MM: When did you first get it in your mind to open a gym?

JG: Like I told you, when I was a kid. I had that gym in my garage. I graduated from high school, and it wasn't long after that I went to war. I spent almost four years there, and I got wounded -- hurt pretty badly during the war. That has a lot to do with what I have today, with the crutches and the wheelchair. So anyhow, when I came back in '46, we were lying around the beach, tryin' to figure out what we wanted to do, but I really didn't make a move until 1950 or '51. I happened to end up in New Orleans on a ship, and I decided to open up a gym in New Orleans. It was called Ajax, after a great Greek warrior. I lasted a couple of years, I got bored to death, and I went back to sea again. New Orleans, naturally, was not my town. Being a Californian is a whole different world. 

MM: How were you injured in the war, if you don't mind me asking?

JG: Our ship took a hit, and I fell head over heels down the stairs.

MM: How did Gold's Gym actually evolve?

JG: That evolved . . . it was strange . . . I was still going to sea and everything, still doing the same thing, and there was this club at the beach called the Muscle Beach Weightlifting Club. 


    And it was right on he beach for years, and Santa Monica decided it didn't want it, and in the late '50s they chased all the guys off the beach, and they went indoors and opened up a club and called that the Muscle Beach Weightlifting Club. And they were moving from place to place, and it was very unsettled, so I told the guys, "Look, I own a lot here in Venice, and I'll build you a building," and I said, "I paid seven grand for the lot, and you can have it for nine, and I'll build the building for you, build the equipment, do everything for you, and we can all be charter members." They thought I was out to make on the deal when they figured I was going to make $2,000. So I said, "Okay, fine," but I decided we needed a gym in this area anyhow, so I built Gold's Gym. I built the building myself, built all the equipment, and I opened it up, and it was an instant success because everything I did at that particular time was new and innovative; they'd never seen equipment like that before. The first big member I had was Dave Draper. 

I wish I'd never read these Dave Draper columns . . .

so I could read them for the first time again!
No matter the weather, never think about stalling,
these individually voiced treasures will have you training post haste: 

MM: What was the size of the gym?

JG: At that time, the whole gym was 3,300 square feet. It was strictly a musclehead gym, this was not a health club, and 3,300 sq. ft. was pretty big back then.

MM: So you built all the equipment?

JG: Oh yes. I went to the scrap yard and bought steel at a nickel a pound and built everything. The big equipment maker back then was Paramount, and they made the health-club stuff that basically was pretty looking, even though it wasn't the best. And then Vic Tanny had his own factory, and he made a step above that, but it was still all for health clubs. The stuff I built was all for muscleheads. I built stuff you couldn't move. Most of the benches of he time were rickety-rackety, but I built stuff where the seats were adjustable; I put stands on the inclines which they'd never had; I built special machines -- rowing machines, all that sort of stuff.

MM: In the beginning, did you ever think you weren't going to make it?

JG: I never think negative, always positive.

MM: When did Arnold first walk into the place?

JG: That was 1968. I was forewarned about him. Chester Yorton -- I don't know if you remember that name -- Chester Yorton had just come back from Europe from the Mr. Universe contest, and he had just beat out Arnold.

This man (Yorton) never bragged about anybody but himself, but he said, "This kid's gonna be great. You gotta see this kid." He was putting the word of the gospel out. He was so impressed with this guy. Of course, he was talking about Arnold. When I saw Arnold, he was big, good looking, and you could talk to him. He was maybe 20 years old, and he had direction, and you knew by talking to him that this kid knew where he was going. That was my first encounter with Arnold.

MM: Did you have any insight that this guy was going to make this sport more mainstream?

JG: Well, that's what I just said. He knew which direction he wanted to go, knew what he wanted to do, and nothing would stand in his way.

MM: Can you think of anything particularly funny about those days?

JG: Well, I gave everybody nicknames. I called Arnold and Franco "Batman and Robin." They came as a team. And Arnold was on the smooth side, so I used to call him "Balloon Belly."

MM: Really? Arnold, Balloon Belly? [this was obviously before our modern GH gut stars bubbled to the surface]. What did he say to that?

JG: What could he say? I was the owner of the gym, so I called him Balloon Belly.

MM: Could you ever replicate the atmosphere of those old days?

JG: It's an era you'll never duplicate. You can't go backwards; you gotta go forwards. What you have to realize, at that particular time, Gold's was the only true bodybuilding gym in the whole world. There was Vince Gironda in the city of Los Angeles, and he had a nice little gym, and he was one of them. Later on, Bill Pearl had a nice gym, but here I came along in the '60s and built something better than either one of them. So, the word spread like wildfire all over the world, and the span that I owned it was not very long, remember. It was a six-year period. In that six-year period, i captured every bodybuilder in the world. I mean Sergio Oliva and . . . you can keep on going down the list. When you came to L.A., there was no place to work out other than Gold's.

MM: What did a membership cost back then?

JG: When I first opened up, it was 40 bucks a year. When I sold it, it was 60. And the new guys upped it to 75.

MM: What impact did the book and movie Pumping Iron have on the business?

JG: Well, I didn't own the gym at that time, but it had a tremendous impact. What it did to the business was make it known worldwide. It showed a different side of the bodybuilder that nobody had ever seen before, and it showed that all bodybuilders are not big dummies, and that they had something on the ball, and Arnold had the charisma about him that Hollywood embraced. And that's the reason he was able to do all those pictures he did. And, it just changed bodybuilding. As soon as Hollywood embraced it, it became a whole different world. It became respectable.

MM: What year did you build the gym?

JG: Built it in '64 and sold it in '70.

MM: Why did you sell the place?

JG: I got bored. There was no money in it those days. There was no money in bodybuilding. Money didn't start until the late '70s.

MM: So what happened after you sold the place?

JG: Well, I went back to sea. Like I told you, the last ship I was on was in 1978. And then Arnold and the guys came up to me and said, "Why don't you open up another gym?" That was in '75. I said, "Okay," and it took me a little while to open it. I did the same thing, I build all the equipment again, and I built the building again, and I opened World Gym. Because I sold the name "Gold's," of course. And then along came World, and all the guys came over to the gym. It was a strange situation because I had signed a covenant not to compete with Gold's Gym, and I broke it anyhow, and they tried to sue me, and I went through all this crap. So, anyhow, I had to make an agreement with them that I wouldn't do any advertising or take any pictures. But it actually worked against them. Photographers used to climb up on ladders and shoot the guys through the windows. The more they said I couldn't advertise, the more popular it became.

MM: It created a sort of a mystique, then?

JG: Yes.

MM: Is that first World Gym where you are now?

JG: Yes. In Santa Monica. It's where my home is, the corporate offices, and I built a penthouse on top.

MM: What's a typical day like now?

JG: Of course, I have to get up in the morning. I have a little tea for breakfast and a muffin, and I go to the gym and start my day. I take in a light little workout about every day -- at least I try to. You screwed up my workout today, by the way. And then, I go to the office after taking care of my gym affairs, and I see what's happening, see what's important, make decisions, and spend a couple of hours there. From there, I go to Englewood. In Englewood, I have a little shop, and I use it as a warehouse and shop. It's about 5,000 square feet. And right now, I'm building a set of dumbbells, from 160 to 200 lbs. And you can imagine how many guys can lift those. I'm making them very precise, right down to the ounce. And I'm making them for Lee Priest, who I think is the only guy in the world who can lift them right now. I did make a pair of 170's first, to see if he could do it, and he lifted them quite easily.

MM: When did World Gym start franchising out?

JG: We started, I believe it was in the late '70s, early '80s.

MM: Is it fair to say you're a fairly well-to-do man at this point?

JG: Ahh, yes and no. I've given things away . . . I'm comfortable, let's put it that way.

MM: Are you involved in actually giving training advice?

JG: No, I don't dabble in that. I have certain people I say things to, but I keep away from that.

MM: Arnold still works out there, doesn't he?

JG: Oh yes, he was here the other day, as a matter of fact.

MM: Do people leave him alone? Are they respectful of his privacy?

JG: In my gym, they know better. Nobody bothers anybody here.

MM: What do you think of what's going on in professional bodybuilding today?

JG: Well, I really don't want to get involved in that conversation. I have my own opinions. No steroids, none of that. Just change the subject.

MM: Can I just ask you what the differences are between modern bodybuilding and when it first started?


MM: I'd like to know your opinion.

JG: You ought to get an opinion on this one. Bodybuilders in the old days . . . we didn't have the "magic" they have in the modern days, let's put it that way. The bodies were entirely different. Nowadays, they look like clones. That's all you're going to get from me on that subject.

MM: What do you think about . . .

JG: What do I think about? Your time's almost up, kid. You better hurry.

MM: I understand you wanted to see bodybuilding in the Olympics. Is that a possibility?

JG: Not the way it's going today; it's not a possibility. You have to change it. You've got a lot of changes to do before that will happen. You have to clean up the sport. Clean up the promoters. Clean up everything. Give the sport a bath.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Truth in Sport History: Facts, Objectivity and Interpretation - Douglas Booth

No, it's not Joe Weider.

from "The Field"
by Douglas Booth (2006)

Facts and objectivity are the knowledge base of reconstructionism, the dominant approach in sport history among those firmly committed to finding truths about the sporting past. "It is the search for truth that must guide our labours," wrote Geoffrey Elton, whose philosophy continues to guide the field. 

 - Geoffrey Elton, Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study, 1991, p. 48.

This volume contains the text of the three Cook Lectures, delivered by Sir Geoffrey Elton at the University of Michigan in April 1990, which reviewed various current doubts and queries concerning the writing of reasonably unbiased history. 

Today, Elton represents the conservative reconstructionist position as evident in the following quote: "uncertainty around historical truth and a true view of the past arises from the deficiencies of the evidence and the problems it poses, rather than from the alleged transformation of events in the organizing mind of the historian. That doctrine, however dressed up, leads straight to a frivolous nihilism which allows any historian to say whatever he likes. We historians are firmly bound by the authority of our sources . . . And though gaps and ambiguities close the road to total reconstruction, the challenges they pose lead to those fruitful exchanges, even controversies, among historians which do as much as anything does to advance our outworks ever nearer to the fortress of truth."  [Return to Essentials, pp. 48-49.]

However, if the search for truth prevails in history, reconstuctionists have, over time, revised their understanding of the relationship between truth, facts and objectivity. As David Hackett Fischer reminded reconstructionists some time back, "it is no easy matter to tell the truth, pure and simple, about past events; for historical truths are never pure, and rarely simple." Indeed, he explained, "the process of historical truth-telling itself is even more intricate than the truths which historians tell":

 -- Every true statement must be thrice true. It must be true to its evidence, true to itself, and true to other historical truths with which it is colligated. Moreover, a historian must not merely tell truths, but demonstrate their truthfulness as well. He is judged not simply by his veracity, but by his skill at verification." 

 - David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, 1970, p. 40.
"If one laughs when David Hackett Fischer sits down to play, one will stay to cheer. His book must be read three times: the first in anger, the second in laughter, the third in respect....The wisdom is expressed with a certin ruthlessness.Scarcely a major historian escapes unscathed.Ten thousand members of the American Historical Association will rush to the index and breathe a little easier to find their names absent."

"An important terms of helping an entire generation of scholars who profess to have lost confidence in being historians." - New York Times Book Review.


I begin this chapter by examining the shift in the meaning of facts from absolute, naturally occurring entities that reside in historical materials -- and which are the converse of opinion, supposition and conjecture -- to historical relevancies constructed by practitioners as they seek answers to specific questions. 

I then look at a revised approach to objectivity which stemmed from criticisms that historians are inextricably bound up with the construction of facts and that not even the most elaborate forensic tests of evidence will reduce the gap between historical materials and the interpretation of those materials. 

As Robert Berkhofer puts it, facts may be 'necessary' to 'produce a proper history,' but they re 'not sufficient': 'facts do not determine an interpretation; rather all interpretations are underdetermined.' 

 - Robert Berkhofer, Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse, 1995, p. 56.

What legitimate form can history take when faced by the severe challenges issued in recent years by literary, rhetorical, multiculturalist, and feminist theories? That is the question considered in this long-awaited and pathbreaking book. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., addresses the essential practical concern of contemporary historians; he offers a way actually to go about reading and writing histories in light of the many contesting theories.

Berkhofer ranges through a vast archive of recent writings by a broad range of authors. He explicates the opposing paradigms and their corresponding dilemmas by presenting in dialogue form the positions of modernists and postmodernists, formalists and deconstructionists, textualists and contextualists. Poststructuralism, the New Historicism, the New Anthropology, the New Philosophy of History -- these and many other approaches are illuminated in new ways in these comprehensive, interdisciplinary explorations.

From them, Berkhofer arrives at a clear vision of the forms historical discourse might take, advocates a new approach to historical criticism, and proposes new forms of historical representation that encompass multiculturalism, poetics, and reflexive (con)textualization. He elegantly blends traditional and new methodology; assesses what the "revival of the narrative" actually entails; considers the politics of disciplinary frameworks; and derives coherent new approaches to writing, teaching, reviewing, and reading histories.


Last, I investigate some recent thoughts about objectivity as proposed by a group of reconstructionists in their attempt to preserve history's status as a truth-finding discipline.

I conclude with an outline of contemporary reconstructionism and a defense of the model in the face of criticisms from deconstructionist-leaning historians.

Questioning the Facts

Early reconstructionism conceived of history as a simple practice. Disciples began by examining remnants of human activity -- what Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob call the 'detritus of past living' -- some of which they claim to have discovered. 

    - Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History, 1994, p. 259.

This text examines the problem of historical truth. Seeking the roots of contemporary historical study in the Enlightenment, the authors argue that a model of historical research, based on neutrality and objectivity, served historians well until World War II. After that post-modernism suggested history could not reveal the truth about the past and the rise of social history produced a great amount of statistics which effectively swamped the search for historical truth. Accepting that much of history teaching has been flawed, the authors nevertheless argue for an affirmation of historical knowledge against the doubts of the skeptics and the relativists, guiding the reader through the complex areas of political correctness and multiculturalism.


They then extracted from those historical materials what they called 'facts,' a term deemed synonymous with truth. From these facts, or truths, historians wrote their narratives -- typically descriptions of what happened, with perhaps an explanation of why it happened. Reconstructionists, especially, praise their colleagues whose narratives or stories appeared to flow 'naturally' from the facts. 

 - The origins of this model lie in scientific revolution. See:

Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession.

The aspiration to relate the past "as it really happened" has been the central goal of American professional historians since the late nineteenth century. In this remarkable history of the profession, Peter Novick shows how the idea and ideal of objectivity was elaborated, challenged, modified, and defended over the past century. Drawing on the unpublished correspondence as well as the published writing of hundreds of American historians, this book is a richly textured account of what American historians have thought they were doing, or ought to be doing, when they wrote history--how their principles influenced their practice and practical exigencies influenced their principles. Published with the support of the Exxon Education Foundation.


My analysis here is of early reconstructionism and its assumptions about facts and truths, and of the critiques launched by constructionists and proto-deconstructionists. As we shall see, these criticisms changed the notion of a fact in reconstructionism. What was previously a naturally occurring entity in the materials of the past now became a relevancy, that is, a truth-bearing statement pertinent to the question at hand.

Facts are the backbone of reconstructionism.

But what is a fact? And how do reconstructionists use them? 

Followers of this model typically define facts as finite, permanent, fixed and transparent in their meaning, although, given the indispensability of facts in this school, they have written surprisingly little on the subject. Bernard Whimpress is one of the few practitioners to discuss the centrality of facts in sport history.

 - Bernard Whimpress, 'The Value of Facts in Sports History', Sporting Traditions, 9, 1 (1992), p. 2.

While he goes on to argue that historians must put their facts into context, his underlying assumption appears to be that it is as easy to determine a context as it is to gather the facts. On the contrary, determining a context is as difficult as deciding the facts. Indeed, the latter formulation highlights the deficiencies of the map analogy: maps only provide a sense of place if the reader knows how to translate cartographic symbols and scales into real terrain.

Reciting Australian cricketer Bill Lawry's batting record on the 1961 Australian tour of England (57 at Edgbaston, 130 and 1 at Lords, 28 and 28 at Leeds, 74 and 102 at Manchester, a duck at The Oval), Whimpress asserted that such facts inspire confidence in the understanding of the past. Echoing the view of the early descriptive approach to sport history, Whimpress drew an analogy between historical facts and maps (that provide 'a sense of place;) and chronologies (that provide 'a sense of time').

 Note: While he goes on to argue that historians must put their facts into context (the circumstances that form the setting for an event in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed), his underlying assumption appears to be that it is as easy to determine a context as it is to gather the facts. On the contrary, determining a context is as difficult as deciding the facts. Indeed, the latter formulation highlights the deficiencies of the map analogy: maps only provide a sense of plane if the reader knows how to translate cartographic symbols and scales into real terrain.

Long strips of factual statements -- each one dutifully noted* with some sort of conclusion tacked on, figure prominently in early sport history.

* historians use notes -- as footnotes of endnotes -- to record where they found their facts/evidence/testimony. In this sense these are the sites where historians prove that they have consulted relevant historical materials. They are also frequently the sites where historians engage with and challenge each other and describe their own reflexivity.

Louis Gottschalk, Understanding History: A Primer of Historical Method, 1969, p.19.

The five uses of footnotes the author itemizes can be applied to any aspect of historical writing. One, it allows other people to test the conclusions. Two, the discriminating reader is shown where to find greater verification. Three, a challengeable statement can be traced to its point of origin. Four, quotation accuracy is assured. Five, researchers who wish to explore related topics have bibliographical leads in the documentation.


Sloppy noting, excessive and pedantic noting, and especially the absence of notes, expose historians to intense peer criticism. Practitioners use notes in a myriad of ways: to deny or assert facts, to amass citations and quotations of no interest to any reader, or to attack anything that resembles a new thesis.

But yeah . . . Long strips of factual statements -- each one dutifully noted* with some sort of conclusion tacked on, figure prominently in early sport history. Reconstructionists occasionally label these narratives as inductive histories, a term used to imply that the practitioner has drawn general conclusions directly from the facts.

 Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past, 1999, p. 22 and p. 212.

The Killing of History argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorizing for real knowledge about the past. The result is revolutionary and unprecedented: contemporary historians are increasingly obscuring the facts on which truth about the past is built. In The Killing of History, Windschuttle offers a devastating expose of these developments. This fascinating narrative leads us into a series of case histories that demonstrate how radical theory has attempted to replace the learning of traditional history with its own political agenda.


- Induction takes its name from the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon who advanced a method that 'derives its axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all.' (cited in Fischer, Historians' Fallacies, p. 4 note 2). But as Fischer comments, Bacon's major work 'did not defend an induction as simple-minded as this, but rather a more complex method of interdependent inquiry and research' (P.5).

The following account of women's golf in late nineteenth-century Canada (complete with the original note numbers) is a good example. 'It is difficult,' the author began, 'to find mention of a golf club anywhere in Canada that did not have lady members in surprising numbers.'

  - Probably the first women's golf club in the Dominion (of Canada) was the ladies' branch of the Royal  Montreal Golf Club, formed in 1892. The wife of George A. Drummond became the first president, and in addition to Mrs. Drummond, other ladies involved were: Mrs. H.V. Meredith, secretary; Mrs. W. Wallace Watson; Mrs. Halton; and Misses P. Young, A. Lamb, and A. Paterson. The Montreal Club had moved to new premises at Dixie in 1896, after 'collisions with passing pedestrians were of such frequent occurrence that it was found necessary to seek other grounds.' [Collisions here referring to people walking by being struck with flying golf balls.] The following year, no fewer than 150 lady members 'built themselves a club-house adjoining that of their husbands and brothers at Dixie.' . . . A Quebec Ladies Gold [Club] was also formed in 1892 or 1893; and the Ottawa Golf Club had '25 lady associate members in 1894. Four years later this total had risen to 48 . . . It was in 1896, too, that the Oshawa and Sherbrooke Golf Clubs came into being, and both had ladies' clubs attached within two years. Also, by 1898, the Victoria Golf Club of British Columbia  was 'nearly equally divided between the two sexes,' whilst at Hamilton in Ontario, the lady golf-club members actually outnumbered the men. And at the Branford Golf Club   by the turn of the century, there were more female members than male, the reported figures being 39 gentle-men and 48 ladies.

By presenting these statements as a finite universe of transparent facts that require neither clarification nor elaboration, it is a simple matter for the author to conclude that 'feminine enthusiasm for the game was manifest throughout Canada . . . '

But what makes these statements facts? In large measure the factual properties derive from their origin in primary sources. A primary source is one with a direct link, in time and place, to the person, event, situation or culture under study. Secondary sources, in contradistinction, provide commentary on, or interpretations of, past events.

The primary sources in the extract above are a period book, four period magazines and two period newspapers; the secondary sources are a Master of Arts thesis and a general history of golf published in 1973. 

 - Primary and secondary are not 'cast-iron categories', the distinction depends on the questions that the historian asks.

Luise White, Speaking With Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa, 2000, p. 311.

During the colonial period, Africans told each other terrifying rumors that Africans who worked for white colonists captured unwary residents and took their blood. In colonial Tanganyika, for example, Africans were said to be captured by these agents of colonialism and hung upside down, their throats cut so their blood drained into huge buckets. In Kampala, the police were said to abduct Africans and keep them in pits, where their blood was sucked. Luise White presents and interprets vampire stories from East and Central Africa as a way of understanding the world as the storytellers did. Using gossip and rumor as historical sources in their own right, she assesses the place of such evidence, oral and written, in historical reconstruction.

Evidence spatially and temporally removed from an event may qualify as a primary source. Often historians are as interested in what contemporary commentators thought was happening, or thought had happened, as in what actually did happen -

John Tosh, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 2000, p. 38. 

This classic introduction to the study of history invites the reader to stand back and consider some of its most fundamental questions - What is the point of studying history? How do we know about the past? Does an objective historical truth exist and can we ever access it?

In answering these central questions, John Tosh argues that, despite the impression of fragmentation created by postmodernism in recent years, history is a coherent discipline which still bears the imprint of its nineteenth-century origins. Consistently clear-sighted, he provides a lively and compelling guide to a complex and sometimes controversial subject, while making his readers vividly aware of just how far our historical knowledge is conditioned by the character of the sources and the methods of the historians who work on them.

 - In their respective analyses of the conquest of Mount Everest, for example, Gordon Stewart and Peter Hansen pay as much attention to the account given by John Hunt, the ascent team's captain who stayed at the base camp, as to Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who climbed to the summit. Hunt's views constitute a primary source for Stewart and Hansen who seek to understand the conquest of Everest and Late Imperial Culture in Britain.

Historians mostly use secondary sources to contextualize their subject. When When historians use secondary sources as evidence, as they often must, they access evidence through an intermediary who mediates, or filters, the information. In the search for evidence about the physical ascent of Everest, John Hunt is a secondary source: he neither accompanied nor observed Hillary and Tenzing on the summit.

Inductive or reconstructionist narrative histories have been subjected to loud and sharp criticisms. Fischer [see above] describes the process of induction as one where historians go 'a-wandering in the dark forest of the past, gathering facts like nuts and berries, until [they have] enough to make a general truth. Then [they] store up . . . general truths until [they have] the whole truth.

R.G. Collingwood was more scathing. He called these forms of induction 'scissors and paste' history. According to Collingwood, facts in scissors-and-paste history are merely the minutiae flowing from historical materials.

R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of History, 1999, pp. 12-13.

This book contains a lengthy editorial introduction that puts Collingwood's writings in their context and discusses the philosophical questions they initiate. A landmark publication, this work will appeal not only to those studying Collingwood but also to anyone broadly curious about philosophy of history.    


Appleby, Hunt and Jacob [see above] capture well the mindset of these practitioners whom they describe as entering into a 'trance investigation.' In this state, historians 'simply brush aside' their own 'beliefs, values and interests . . . to allow the mirror to capture the reflection of [facts].' Last, critics admonish scissors-and-paste historians for not querying the subjective dimensions of their narratives or those present in their sources. 

Practitioners of induction did not passively retreat in the face of critics' claims. Defenders cited peer reviews, especially in academic journals, as the key sites at which historians confirm facts. An unwritten protocol in history directs book reviewers to check facts and highlight errors. Simon Milton, for example, finds a series of factual errors in FIFA and the Contest for World Football:

Cameroon's opening match of the 1990 World Cup was against defending champions Argentina, not the hosts; Saudi Arabia faced Sweden, not Germany, in the second round of USA 1994; and Brazil lost to Nigeria in the semi-final of the 1996 Olympic tournament, not the final.

The insinuation here is that factual errors dilute readers' confidence in the reliability of a work. Andrew Moore agrees. In a blunt assessment of the ABC of Rugby League, he wrote that 'when one brief entry, that on North Sydney [Rugby Club], contains two glaring errors, one is left with the impression that this volume is less than valuable.'

Andrew Moore, 'Testosterone Overdose: Popular Culture and Historical Memory, Sporting Traditions, 10, 1 (1993), p.17:

Yet, supporters of inductionist-type histories confront a paradox: notwithstanding the apparent primacy of fact, practitioners rarely praise peers for getting the facts right.

 - Some historians at least have the grace to apologize for their own errors. After castigating Bill Mallon and Ian Buchanan 'for perpetuating . . . a long held error in the expression of the name of the celebrated (1908 Olympic Games) Italian marathoner Dorando Pietri,' Robert Barney revisited the issue and on the basis of fresh evidence magnanimously conceded that his appellation Pietri Dorando was incorrect. (Robert Barney, 'Setting the Record Straight - Again: Dorando Pietri It Is', Olympika, 10,[2001], pp. 129-30).
(A reconstructionist might reply that facts are so obvious in historical material that only the grossly incompetent and willfully dishonest err.* However, as I shall show in both this and subsequent chapters (The Field: Truth and Fiction in Sport History), the lengths to which historians can go to prove facts, and the intensity with which they quarrel over them illustrates the limitations of that argument.)  
* Arthur Marwick draws the useful distinction here between human 'inaccuracy' and 'willful dishonesty'.

Arthur Maxwick, The Nature of History, 1981, p. 162.

Contents: Preface - Justifications and Definitions - The Development of Historical Studies to the End of the Nineteenth Century - The Development of Historical Studies: The Twentieth Century - The Place of Theory: History, Science and Social Science - The Historian at Work: Historical Facts and Historical Sources - The Historian at Work: The Writing of History - History, Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies - Controversy in History - Conclusion: The Nature and Profession of History - Appendix A: Examples of Aims and Objectives - Appendix B: Some Aphorisms - Appendix C: Glossary - Bibliography - Index 
Does this mean, then, that there is more to historical practice than simply discovering and/or identifying the facts of the past? Evidence form book reviews in academic journals informs us that factual accuracy is rarely the defining criterion on which historians judge each others' work (see: Berkhofer, Beyond the Great Story, p. 56). Milton, for example, describes the 'surplus of historical mistakes' in FIFA and the Contest for World Football as merely 'irritating.' *

*Edward Carr likened bestowing praise on historians for factual accuracy to congratulating 'an architect for using . . . properly mixed concrete.' 'It is a necessary condition of their work,' he says, 'but not [their] essential function.' Carr maintains that historians do not require the expertise 'to determine the origin and period of a fragment of pottery or marble, to decipher an obscure inscription, or to make the elaborate astronomical calculations to establish a precise date.' These are the 'so-called basic facts,' they are the 'same for all historians,' and 'belong to the category of the raw materials of the historian rather than of history itself.'

Edward Carr, What is History?, second edition, 1990, pp. 10-11.

"Study the historian before you begin to study the facts. This is, after all, not very abstruse. It is what is already done by the intelligent undergraduate who, when recommended to read a work by that great scholar Jones of St. Jude's, goes round to a friend at St. Jude's to ask what sort of chap Jones is, and what bees he has in his bonnet. When you read a work of history, always listen out for the buzzing. If you can detect none, either you are tone deaf or your historian is a dull dog. The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation." - E. H. Carr

So, where does this leave the reconstructivist notion of facts as the self-evident truths upon which history rests?

Micheal Postan implied that there is much more to history than collecting the facts when he argued that practitioners only gather those facts germane to their specific questions and that even so-called hard, or fast, facts are no more than relevancies. Within this conceptualization every historical fact is a product of 'limited vision':

 - 'If an historical 'event' can be defined as a past occurrence . . . then an historical fact is nothing more than one of the event's observed aspects. What makes it observable is its affinity to an interest uppermost in the observer's mind. This affinity impels the historian to focus his vision upon it, but to be able to focus the historian must also be prepared to neglect. Outside the facets of events within his focus, there must be other facets which he does not wish to observe, or even facets so far outside the range of . . . professional vision as to be altogether outside the scope of historical study.' 

M. M. Postan, Fact and Relevance: Essays on Historical Method, 1971, p. 51.

A collection of fourteen essays in which Professor Postan draws together for the first time his contributions to the debate on historical method, and discusses from a variety of different angles, the inter-relation of history and the social sciences. 

Postan's views fused neatly with those of Edward Carr for whom the push for facts 'rests not on any quality of the facts themselves, but on an a priori decision [relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience] of the historian.'  Comparing historians to journalists who select and arrange the facts in order to influence opinion, Carr observed that 'the facts only speak when the historian calls on them.' Historians 'decide to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context,' and in this sense they are 'necessarily selective.' In Carr's opinion 'the belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy.

Indeed, the emergence of new complements of facts whenever sport historians turn their attention to a new problem or issue add weight to Postan's and Carr's arguments and direct our attention to the infinite composition of historical events and to the infinite choice of historical facts. By Carr's reckoning then, historical facts are judgements about which historians agree; they are a function of whether other historians accept a particular incident or interpretation as 'valid and significant.'*

* Carr, What is History, p. 12 and p. 13. Here Carr added that in most cases a particular interpretation 'has been preselected and predetermined for us by people who were consciously or unconsciously imbued with a particular view and thought the facts which supported that view worth preserving.' 

Those not persuaded by Carr and Postan, and convinced that indisputable facts exist, that is, that facts are more than 'constructions and interpretations of the past' framed by individual perspectives, might consider the following statements taken from ostensibly factual histories of the legendary English cricketer William Gilbert Grace. Here I want to categorically demonstrate that even the simplest, most straightforward of facts involve definitions, frameworks and concepts, all of which ultimately require some level of clarification while many others are contestable. 

1) Grace was born 18 July, 1848 and died 23 October, 1915.
2) Grace scored 54,896 first-class runs.

Even these simple statements are not straightforward facts. Dates, for example, are defined by calendars, in this case the Georgian calendar that was not a universal Western standard even in Grace's time. The Greeks, for example, used the Julian calendar to schedule the Olympic games of 1896 from the 25 March to the 3 April (equating to the 6-15 April in the Georgian calendar). Grace's tally of first-class runs varies according to the definition of a first-class match. Disagreement emerges here between figures produced by F. S. Ashley-Cooper for Wisden (the annual cricket almanac) in 1916 and the Association of Cricket Statisticians. The latter's definition reduces Grace's run tally to 54,211

3) Grace was the founding father of modern cricket.
4) Grace was the king of 19th Century cricket and occupies an unassailable position in the history of sport.

The factual content of these two sentences resides in quite specific interpretive frameworks that derive their persuasive power from two metaphors -- 'father' and 'king' (I discuss the centrality of metaphor in historical explanation in Chapter 4). Most rankings in sport focus on performances that rapidly lose their gloss as they are invariably surpassed. Not even Grace's 126th century, scored at the ripe old age of 56 in 1904, could earn him a place in one recent list of supreme 20th Century British sporting achievements.

5) Grace was the best-known Englishman of his era.
6) Grace was instrumental in the establishment of Victorianism.
7) Grace embodied John Bull.

Even if the reader agrees with the description in the fifth sentence, acceptance of sentences six and seven mean subscribing to very specific ideological and class-based notions of Victorianism and English nationalism that tend to whitewash domestic class and political relationships. Both assertions rest on considerable theory (see Chapter 3). Furthermore, the John Bull allegory of British character is a caricature that has changed considerably over time, variously referring to an honest clothier, a gross and rather stupid figure, a prosperous citizen, and a jovial and honest farmer.

8) Grace aligned himself politically with Gentlemen (amateurs) against Players (professionals).
9) Grace was a notorious shamateur - a gentleman professional - whose expenses and appearance fees far exceeded the salaries earned by professional players.
10) Grace breached the amateur code which dictates that cricketers play for the love of the game.

Sentences eight to ten combine fact and opinion. The truth of Grace's hypocrisy in breaching the amateur code exists solely within the theoretical perspective of a pure amateur ideal that in practice rarely came to fruition. Moreover, it says nothing about the relationships between professional and amateur cricketers that were critical to the development of the game.

Each of these sentences contains 'differing degrees of factuality depending on the proportion of empirical evidence and theory.' [Beyond the Great Story, p. 55] Empirical evidence, however, is paramount and non-negotiable in the establishment of historical fact (although historians are not totally averse to treating silences as presumptive evidence and to reasoning from, and mounting arguments on the basis of them.)

 - 'Historians who claim that silence constitutes concealment must first prove that the silenced information was 'integral' to the account and 'so central' that it should have been automatically included.'

[Martha C. Howell, Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, 2001, p. 74.]

A lively introduction to historical methodology, an overview of the techniques historians must master in order to reconstruct the past. Its focus on the basics of source criticism, rather than on how to find references or on the process of writing, makes it an invaluable guide for all students of history and for anyone who must extract meaning from written and unwritten sources.


The final statement below is one that most academic sport historians would look at with skepticism without direct evidence:

11) Grace dreamed of cricket as the world game.

The varying degrees of interpretation and contextualization in each of the other ten 'factual' sentences should alert even the most conservative reconstructionist to the artificiality and subjectivity of concrete statements that typically masquerade as facts; at the very least they should be persuaded that facts are not natural entities leaping at them from past materials. In the words of Keith Jenkins and Alun Munslow, 'facts are not bits of reality lying around in the past waiting to be picked up, polished and displayed. They are propositional statements about the nature of reality (past events under a description)'.

Keith Jenkins and Alun Munslow (eds), The Nature of History Reader, 2004, p. 14.

In this timely collection, key pieces of writing by leading historians are reproduced and evaluated, with an explanation and critique of their character and assumptions, and how they reflect upon the nature of the history project. The authors respond to the view that the nature of history has become so disparate in assumption, approach and practice as to require an informed guide that is both self-reflexive, engaged, critical and innovative.

The notion of a fact as something other than an incontrovertible fixed truth engendered enormous unease within reconstructionism. Among reconstructionists, the association of facts with interpretations and judgements not only undermined the foundations of truth upon which historical practice rests, but opened the door to ideologically and politically motivated practitioners who gathered selected facts that supported their political agendas. Yet, notwithstanding their discomfort, in formulating their replies to the Postans and Carrs, reconstructionists subtly shifted the focus of their craft away from gathering and reporting facts. The interrogation of historical material became the new paramount task of reconstructionists. And in an attempt to make their facts indisputable, reconstructionists increasingly referred to them in legalistic terms as evidence.

Espousing the modified reconstructionist doctrine, Keith Windschuttle conceded that the past does not advertise itself, and that the retrieval of facts is not one of merely extracting observations. Rather, discovering facts is a labor intensive activity that precludes practitioners from making prior decisions. Indeed, Windschuttle believes that historical evidence frequently forces practitioners to change their minds. When they 'go looking for evidence,' he says, historians

 'do not simply find the one thing they are looking for. Most will find many others that they have not anticipated. The result, more often than not, is that this unexpected evidence will suggest alternative arguments, interpretations and conclusions, and different problems to pursue.'

[Windschuttle, The Killing of History, p. 219 and p. 220]

Windschuttle places colossal faith in the objectivity of historical materials. Objectivity, he asserts, exists in the creation and substance of historical material. Whether an 18th Century cricket bat, proclamations and laws banning men and women from swimming together in public pools, the diary of a mountaineer, a late 19th Century film of a horse race, or police testimony presented to a court prosecuting men attending illegal dogfights, all these materials were created to serve contemporary wants, needs and goals, and not for the benefit of future historians. In this sense, they are untainted by foresight. Similarly, figures in cricket score books, the poses adopted by members of a victorious football team for a photograph, or the relief images on a coin produced to commemorate a sporting festival, are fixed, irrespective of who might look at them later, their purposes for looking at them and their subsequent interpretations. Thus, Windschuttle concluded, historical analysis and interpretation are not open-ended: 'the evidence itself will restrict the purposes for which it can be used' and 'this is true even of those documents for which all historians agree that varying interpretations are possible. In these cases, the range of possibilities is always finite . . .'. [The Killing of History, p. 220.]

Committed to finding the truth, mainstream reconstructionism turned to validating (or more correctly invalidating) historical evidence through what amounted to forensic-type examinations.

[Louis Gottschalk, Understanding History: A Primer of Historical Method, 1969, p.42.]

Such examinations became standard fare in reconstructionist methodology textbooks that invariably included multiple chapters on the subject. The critical question is, do these tests actually lead practitioners closer to historical truths? In order to answer this question, I now analyze a standard set of reconstructionist tests for verifying historical evidence.

Validating Historical Truths

In his primer of historical method, Louis Gottschalk defined historical fact as the 'credible' details derived 'directly or indirectly' from historical materials. According to him historians validate or verify those details by interrogating (questioning) their materials. In practice, interrogation involves asking those who produced or created the historical materials or testimony (usually an author or a witness) questions like: was the witness able and willing to tell the truth, and did second-hand parties accurately report or record what primary witnesses said or observed? Interrogation also means searching for independent corroboration. 

[Gottschalk, Understanding History, p. 140 and p. 150.]

Reconstructionists typically see these and similar tests as forensic-type examinations that produce incontrovertible evidence. While space does not allow identification of the full range of tests needed to verify historical sources and arguments, I can apply a selection to several examples. [Book forums are a good starting point to examine the complexity of evaluating historical arguments. See, for example, Jeffrey Sammons, 'A Proportionate and Measured Response to the Provocation That is Darwin's Athletes,' Journal of Sport History, 24, 3 (1997), pp. 378-388 and John Hoberman, 'How Not to Read Darwin's Athletes: A Response to Jeffrey Sammons', Journal of Sport History, 24, 3 (1997), pp. 389-396.

The objective here is simply to ascertain whether a rigorous examination of historical material is enough to establish the truth and shut the door on other possible interpretations, as Windschuttle claims.    

Ability to Tell the Truth

Reconstructionism issues a standard set of questions for determining whether sources or witnesses are telling the truth:

 - How close geographically and temporally was the witness or witnesses to the event?

- How soon after the event did the witnesses record their observations, or provide their testimony to another party for recording?

- How competent were the witnesses, that is, what was their state of mental and physical health, age, and level of education, memory and narrative skills?

Following these lines of inquiry, Joan Patrick correctly challenged the reliability of three key sources widely cited in popular accounts of the events that led to the lifting of the bans on public bathing in daylight hours in Sydney. These are an article in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney) published on 7 January 1907, an account by P.W. Gledhill, a member of the Manly Historical Society published his Manly and Pittwater: Its Beauty and Progress (1948), and another article in Manly Daily (Manly, Sydney) newspaper that appeared on 28 July 1966. None of these sources, said Patrick, provides direct testimony; all were written well after municipal ordinances promulgated unrestricted daylight surfbathing hours in the summer of 1903-04. Patrick preferred the version given by the pioneer surfbather Arthur Lowe which she felt benefited from his personal involvement with the events. However, far from establishing the truth of Lowe's account, Patrick conceded that his reminiscences are those of 'a seventy-year-old man living in the 1950s nostalgic about a carefree past of endless summers'. Moreover, his story is 'disjointed, suggesting that it was written over a long period of time'.

Patrick's work highlights two fundamental issues in historical interrogation. First, given that the 'toughest' questions in history are 'what is right?' and 'how do historians prove it is right?', interrogation tends to gravitate towards the easier approach, namely, identifying 'what is wrong with any given history'. [Berkhofer, Beyond the Great Story, p. 55]. The second point is that reconstructionists usually express their judgements of competing interpretations of facts in terms of probabilities rather than absolute proofs.*

 * Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture
Michael Poliakoff, 1987, p.6.

Willingness to Tell the Truth

Reconstructionism issues a standard set of questions for determining whether sources or witnesses are telling the truth:

 - How close geographically and temporally was the witness to the event?

 - How soon after the event did the witnesses record their observations, or provide their testimony to another party for recording?

 - How competent were the witnesses, that is, what was their state of mental and physical health, age, and level of education, memory and narrative skills?

Following these lines of inquiry, 





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