Social Science blog

3 posts from August 2010

25 August 2010

Teaching the Paralympics

We have a new member of staff working with the social science team: Andrea Cunsolo, who is with us for six months as part of the Future Jobs Fund Scheme. He’s proving to be an enormous help in getting to grips with the work we are doing for the website on the Paralympics, and is searching for relevant materials in the BL collections and fashioning a bibliographical piece on the role of the Paralympic governing bodies in raising awareness of disabled sport. He also brought to my attention a great new website called Ability v Ability which has been created in partnership with ParalympicsGB and NASUWT. The site is intended for schools (although of course, anyone can use it) and provides resources on the Paralympic movement and its athletes for use by teachers in the classroom. Click on:


Raising awareness of disability sport in schools is essential from a variety of perspectives, but most particularly for children with disabilities who may not have considered becoming involved in physical exercise because of preconceived ideas – their own and other people’s - about their abilities. Widening their horizons and awareness – as well as those of their able-bodied peers, and their teachers too – will contribute enormously to the legacy of the 2012 Paralympics. Ian Brittain’s article (written for the journal Sport, education and society in 2004) is very enlightening in this regard. In it he tells of the enormous influence that a proper sports education can have on children with disabilities, and argues that a positive experience can empower them in many different aspects of their lives. I was also fascinated by Hayley Fitzgerald’s Disability and youth sport, an edited collection of contributions on the subject. Her own chapter ‘Are you a parasite researcher?’ alerts us to the importance of working with disabled athletes and aspiring athletes to research the issues, to arrive at conclusions, and to put them into practice.


Ian Brittain ‘The role of schools in constructing self-perceptions of sport and physical education in relation to people with disabilities’ in Sport, education and society Vol 9, No 1, March 2004

London reference collections shelfmark: ZC.9.a.4559

Lending collections shelfmark: 8419.519500


Disability and youth sport edited by Hayley Fitzgerald Oxford: Routledge, 2009

London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2010.a.3510

Lending collections shelfmark: m09/10755


10 August 2010

Celebrate the all-rounder!

Most of the newspapers last week had pictures of Jessica Ennis’s smiling face as she celebrated her victory as European champion in the heptathlon. Actually watching her do it was even better, because then you could see how slight she is, compared to the other competitors, which to me makes her achievement all the more amazing. Heptathletes are clearly a race apart though, with skills necessarily spread over a broader range of endeavour. Are they more complete athletes than other elites? one wonders; not forgetting though that there have been a number of multi-talented performers, Jesse Owens being one of the most celebrated.

The history of the women’s heptathlon is an interesting one. In its current form, it consists of seven track and field events and is the successor of the shorter pentathlon event which it replaced in the 1984 Olympics. The pentathlon itself dates back to the ancient Greek Olympics, and took its place as one of the main events at the Athens Olympics of 1906, but it had a chequered history after that: being dropped and then included; and forever being tinkered with, with the events being swapped round or added to and different versions being adopted. It did generate some wonderful competitors though, whose multi-faceted athletics skills seem to have been reflected in an equally balanced attitude to life.

Mary Peters, the Olympic gold medallist in the pentathlon event in 1972 is a good example. Now a Dame, celebrated for her sporting excellence, charitable work and work within the sport itself, she really demonstrates the advantages of being an all-rounder.

The Library has a recorded interview with Mary Peters which forms part of the Sound Archive’s ‘Oral history of British athletics collection’. In it she tells of her early athletics career – when pentathlon seemed more of a hobby than anything else – to the dramatic effects of the coaching of her new trainer Buster McShane in 1961.

You can read an interview summary by looking at the Library’s Sound Archive catalogue.

Mary Peters. Mary P. Autobiography London: Paul, 1974
London reference collections shelfmark: X629/6254
Lending collections shelfmark: 86/01596

03 August 2010

Swim coaching

You’d have thought - wouldn’t you? - that the latest sports coaching books acquired by the British Library would be cutting edge modern titles replete with the latest research by sports physiologists and psychologists.  Not a bit of it: a couple of years ago we proudly took possession of a book on swimming published in 1595. This was an English edition, from a Latin original called De arte natandi which was written by Everard Digby and published in 1587.

As Professor Nicholas Orme wrote in his note to accompany a talk on the book at the BL in October 2008, Digby was a ‘rumbustious Tudor scholar, thrown out of Cambridge for offences ranging from crypto-Catholicism to fishing (when he should have been in chapel) and blowing a horn and shouting round the college’. Unusually, he seems to have been pretty nippy in the River Cam, with a love of synchronised swimming moves such as ‘to caper with both his legges at once above the water’ and ‘to swimme with one legge right up’. Woodcuts showed how this was done, should anyone wish to try it.


It’s such a wonderful book that one half expects it to be revealed as a daring hoax, like the Hitler diaries, but anyhow we rate it as authentic – so far…

Digby, Everard De arte natandi Libri duo, quorum Prior regulas ipsius artis, posterior vero praxin demonstrationemque continet. Excudebat Thomas Dawson: Londini, 1587.

London reference collections shelfmarks: 58.b.16; and C.71.h.11.

Orme, Nicholas. Early British swimming 55BC-AD1719 : with the first swimming treatise in English, 1595  [Exeter] : University of Exeter, 1983.

London reference collections shelfmark: X.629/20547

Lending collections shelfmark: 83/27528

Digby, Everard, [De arte natandi libri duo. Adaptation. English ] A short introduction for to learne to swimme. Gathered out of Master Digbies Booke of the Art of Swimming. And translated into English for the better instruction of those who vnderstand not the Latine tongue. By Christofer Middleton. At London : Printed by Iames Roberts for Edward White, and are to be sold at the little North doore of Paules Church, at the signe of the Gun, 1595.

London reference collections shelfmark: C.194.a.833