“Fighting Words” digital exhibit

Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections is home to perhaps the strongest institutional collection of boxing-related books and periodicals in the United States. A selection of these wonderful materials may now be experienced virtually, via the digital exhibit Fighting Words: English and American Boxing Literature from the Joyce Sports Collection.

Modern prizefighting is of English origin, and had developed a distinctive culture with a rich and abundant literature by the turn of the nineteenth century. Fighting Words includes many scarce items from this so-called golden age of English pugilism (ca. 1790-1830). It then carries the story forward to the United States, which by the second half of the 19th century had become the fight game’s new center of gravity. Publishers like Richard Kyle Fox (The National Police Gazette) and Nathaniel “Nat” Fleischer (The Ring) were central to prizefighting’s emergence from illegality into the American sporting mainstream. The exhibit concludes with materials from the 1950s, hearkening the erosion of U.S. boxing culture in the second half of the 20th century.

Questions and comments should be directed to George Rugg, the Joyce Collection’s curator.

Thanksgiving and football

by George Rugg, Curator, Americana

Thanksgiving Day was instrumental to the growth of American football. A season-ending game between the previous year’s top two college teams was first scheduled for Thanksgiving in 1876. In 1880 the contest was moved to New York, where it evolved from game to social event, inaugurating the city’s winter season.

1893-11-30-Yal_vs_Princeton-116-117_f16

By the time the 124-page “memento program” shown here was published, in 1893, the Thanksgiving game was attracting 40,000 people and earning the participating schools (in this case, Yale and Princeton) upwards of $10,000. It was also providing ample fodder for the dozens of New York dailies, whose exhaustive coverage brought college football to broad new constituencies. Many faculty and trustees had misgivings about all this attention, about the loss of old Thanksgiving traditions, and about students’ postgame celebrations in the city; these factors and others led to the abandonment of New York after 1897.

Football-shaped programs were published with some frequency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the case of this 1893 Yale-Princeton Thanksgiving program, the rectos of each leaf contain athletic and school information of various kinds, while the versos contain decidedly upscale advertisements.

 


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