Fonts and the Purpose of Sports History

Recently, Martin Johnes of Swansea University wrote a paper titled, “What’s the point of sports history?” The paper came out as the United Kingdom and Wales implemented higher annual tuition rates for universities, forcing university officials to take the reactive steps of closing out courses they feel will not attract enough students. As Johnes argued, sports history plays an important role in developing informed communities, providing accessible research materials that can provide societal guidance with contemporary problems.

Johnes noted that the intellectual strength of a community rested on the accessibility of academic material. In the process, he showed that availability of sports-related scholarship through free, online databases such as LA84. Moreover, Johnes noted that sports history can shed a light and offer insights into contemporary issues. Sports history, like other historical fields, explore a past that do not offer clean answers. If anything, Johnes’ interpretation of sports history shows a significant value behind challenging existing mindsets and orthodoxies.

In all, I believe Johnes did a reasonable job in exploring the value behind sports history. However, that Johnes saw the need to prepare a paper outlining the purpose of sports history highlights a more glaring problem. Sports history does not have the reputation as a serious discipline. As universities respond to the financial crisis by preemptively closing poorly-enrolled classes, Johnes’ article seeks to present sports history as a serious discipline worthy of enrollment.

How can scholars present sports history as a sophisticated discipline?

Digital history offers one important vehicle. While sports histories are readily available through free, online databases, most sports historians are behind the curve in making their work available online. The use of new media offers a flexible tool to present scholarship in a new, sophisticated manner. Over the past two weeks, for example, we have examined the importance of type, and how fonts can capture and convey the author’s message or a period’s feeling.

My current website design not only seeks to establish an air of tension, but also the appearance of sophistication. The tension seeks to advance Baltimore’s atmosphere during the mid-1960s, as the quest for additional civil rights met with a growing white resistance. Yet, in also attempting to provide a sophisticated look, I want to present my topic as something that should be taken seriously. That sports history is not a fluff discipline that recites game logs, statistics, and antidotes.

In a way, I feel that I have made progress in achieving that goal through my choice of fonts. Pragmatica Web represents my first font, which exhibits slightly uneven contours that captures the spirit of Baltimore through an aura of grittiness. At the same time, I will be contrasting Pragmatica Web with my second font, Freight Sans Pro. This font has smooth, even contours which gives it a sense of formality. Pairing the two fonts together, my intention is to establish a bit of tension. The slightly uneven contours of Pragmatica compared to the smooth lines of Freight Sans Pro. At the same time, Freight Sans Pro’s formality lends a level of sophistication to my project.

Johnes’ paper infers a concern that many scholars do not take sports history seriously. New media offers a new avenue where scholars can make their work more accessible to the public. Yet, equally important, new media offers sports scholars a new way to convey the seriousness of the discipline through digital tools, showing how sports history can develop an enlightened future through a sophisticated look at a tension-filled past.

Addendum: I commented on John’s post, Text and Color Matchup.

I also commented on David’s post, Playing with Type.


Filed under Digital History, Sports History, Web Design

2 responses to “Fonts and the Purpose of Sports History

  1. I like how you included the Orioles colors in your site. Also, great post about how much of a difference design makes here–I like your relation to sports history, in particular. Looking at your site, I do get the feeling that it’s a serious, scholarly site, but yet engaging. Good work!

  2. I appreciate your kind words, David! That was one of major objectives in designing the site: to use design as a method to engage viewers while also showing them the serious issues that sports history covers.

    I believe that a lot is made sometimes about the interaction between civil rights and sports, whether it is Jackie Robinson or Texas Western. Many times, the stories are triumphant in tone. The story I want to tell does not have the triumphant conclusion, but, rather, a sad, foreboding end.

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