Module 1E – Sport, Recreation, and Prowess Projection

Module 1E – Sport, Recreation, and Prowess Projection


>>MARK HORGER: We talked in a
previous lecture a little bit about the idea that
patterns of sport and recreation frequently acted as
vectors of other aspects of culture over and
above just the sport or the play itself. We talk a little about sport
for example, as a vector for gambling or wager. Another
way in, which certain kinds of sport and
recreation served as vectors for other aspects of
culture is sport and recreation serving as a means
of projecting status or prowess, projecting power,
projecting the financial ability to afford whatever
expensive recreation it was you were participating in. In some cases even being able
to project the power of mastery over life and death,
which some historians have interpreted as
one of the reasons for the popularity of certain kinds
of hunting, cock fighting and bear baiting. An
example of this in the colonial period is that one
form of fairly regularized sport activity that does begin
developing in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s in the
Chesapeake region, was the gradual emergence of
thoroughbred horse racing as a recreation. Thoroughbred horse racing is a
good example of a sport or recreational behavior
one of the basic purposes of which was to
project prowess. If you think of thoroughbred racing,
functioning for the owners of thoroughbred horses
as a means by which they demonstrate both their
wealth and power and also their benevolence as a
force in their communities because of their
willingness to invest their resources in providing
this kind of recreational activity for others. So this is an image of William
Byrd the second, who was one of the most successful
planters in Virginia in the late 1600’s. The Byrd
family would eventually become one of the oldest,
wealthiest, most longstanding influential
families in Virginia. But,
William Byrd the second was something
of a newcomer. You might think of him as “new
money”. William Byrd was one of the people
responsible for establishing thoroughbred horse racing in
Virginia in the late 1600’s. It’s interesting to
compare this image of William Byrd and what he’s
trying to project about himself to the one we saw in an
previous lecture, of John Winthrop. John Winthrop
the puritan while still showing you his ability
to afford relatively expensive ruffles was
nevertheless was purposefully projecting a plain, austere,
kind of aesthetic. William Byrd is projecting
wealth and prowess more directly. Blue is a fairly
expensive color in the late 1600’s. This is a little
flashier and showier a kind of personal projection and
as always, in a painting of this vintage you
want to look for messages other than just what
someone’s nose looked like, and he has gone
out of his way to paint a window for you, out of which
you can see one of the sources of his wealth; mainly
that he participates in that mercantile trade that we
discussed in a previous lecture. William Byrd is an example of
thoroughbred horse racing as status and prowess
projection. Thoroughbred horse racing for
spectators serves as a gambling vector, it serves as
a spectator recreation and for the providers of
thoroughbred horse racing, it serves to demonstrate the
ability to afford the provision of thoroughbred horse
racing and the willingness to be seen as a
benevolent force in the community. One of the documents
that you will read in this module is a newspaper
announcement from Virginia in the early 1700’s,
announcing a festival at which wealthy area residents
will provide for the fair-goers, thoroughbred horse
racing and a variety of other recreational
activities all at the same
fair. Some of them wrestling, some of
them obviously sport and recreation to us, but
also some things that look like beauty contests or
music contests and for spectators of that fair, for
people who come to that fair, it is an example of the
gradual development of more regular forms of
recreational activity in the colonies and the gradual
emergence of something of a line between a world of work
and a world of play and recreation. But for William
Byrd, for the people who own horses and race the
horses and place quite large side-bets on the outcome
of the horse race. Thoroughbred horse racing was a
much of a projection of prowess in the
community as it and of an elite economic and social
status in the community as it was something strictly
you did because it was

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