Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - boxing & the power of blogging in history

Yesterday's post here, Boxing, history & social change, was one of three linked posts. The others were A visit to a Cessnock boxing tent and Classical Greek, boxing & New England history.  I do this from time to time when a single post, in this case the first, takes a lot of time. The other two on my New England blogs linked to the first and added some comments tailored to the interests of those specific blogs.

Two of the posts drew substantive comments that allowed me to extend the posts. This is one feature  of blogging that I really love, the way in which reader feedback tests and extends thought.

I said in the main post that the post was triggered by some reading that I had been doing linked to my New England history project. While I hoped that the post would be of general interest, it was also placing boxing in an historical context that I could then use as a framework for my specifically New England writing.

The responses I got far exceeded my expectations.

The original post that I wrote, Memories of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Stadium, drew a range of comments from people with direct family connections to boxing and the troupe. That also led me to find links to some photos. This time, the comments extended the New England story. From my viewpoint as an historian, this stuff is gold.

  In a comment on the original Sharman post, Jason Kells referred to his father: "my dad fought for him under the name Curly Ryan before sparing for Dave Sands until Dave's unfortunate death." I did find some material for Jason, but requests on the blog for more information and especially photos of the Sharman troupe in the 1940s and 1950s drew a blank.

In a comment this time, Greg reminded me again of Dave Sands. Sands, an example of the Aboriginal fighters that I was talking about, came from Burnt Bridge near Kempsey and later lived in Stockton; there is a memorial to him there. From a compositional viewpoint, if I can use that term in a history context, the earlier work that I have been trying to do on the history of New England's Aboriginal peoples should set a context for the Dave Sands' story. 

As an aside, and so often happens, the check search I did to update material on Burnt Bridge almost totally side-tracked this post today. I found a lot more material on line than previously, including a strange piece about Armidale. I disciplined myself, and just created temporary bookmarks!

In my post I mentioned the The Tent, by Wayne McLennan, a remarkably good short piece on a visit of a boxing tent to Cessnock. kvd kindly dug down and found that Wayne had actually fought for Bells and that Bells still existed, so I added some material here as a postcript. He also found that Wayne had been admitted to the Cessnock Hall of Fame and was now a writer, thus adding a new writer to my New England writer list.

Meantime, Greg had reminded me that boxer Les Darcy came from near Maitland,and had added some additional historical material on boxing Newcastle. Boxing really was strong in the lower Hunter.

I am sure that you see what I mean by the richness of all this because we now have interconnected and interesting threads: we have boxing as a sport and entertainment whose changing role reflects broader social change; we have the concentration of boxing among two groups, Aborigines and the working class people of the lower Hunter; and we have interesting descriptive material about sport and lifestyle.

My main post took a long time to research and write, but the payback has been enormous.

Boxing is necessarily a small element within my main history, but it's still interesting. I absolutely love the juxtaposition between the world we are talking about now and that presented in 1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside. As I said in the post on my history blog:         

There is a huge difference between the hot, dusty and sweaty world of the boxing tent and the desire to establish Armidale as a national centre for classical Greek studies. Yet boxing was also a school sport at TAS. I used the school gloves many years later when boxing had already dropped from the frame.

One of the joys of history to my mind remains the contrasts, the way that very different things coexist at the same time. We do ourselves and history no justice when we try to jam things into acceptable frames, ignoring the comparisons and conflicts inherent in any historical period.

Becoming more practical, less lyrical, my next step is simply to consolidate all the leads I have been given into a summary post on the New England history blog.

Isn't blogging fun?! I am trying to tempt more of my history colleagues into this space. I may have something to report here a little later. For the moment, my thanks to all my research assistants (honoris causa)

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