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The cultural transfer and the diffusion of physical education and sport in Europe, 1918-1945: the Anglo-German case

Final Report Summary - CTDPES (The cultural transfer and the diffusion of physical education and sport in Europe, 1918-1945: the Anglo-German case)

[Summary description of the project objectives]
The project aimed at studying cultural transfer and diffusion of physical education and sport in Europe by focusing on the British and German cases in the interwar period. During this time, governments from most European countries contributed to the ‘politisation’ of sport and physical education. The people’s interest in physical activities made those suitable to use for ideological purposes. The reason for focusing on Germany and Britain is that for over a century both countries had developed their own distinctive national model of physical culture. However, previous work at international level revealed that the political distinction between countries was a partial explanation of the phenomenon and that influences between countries were important and often challenged ‘national’ traditions. Opposition to foreign influence was coupled with the observation of other countries, which might also be a source of inspiration. The central aspect of the project was therefore to study the currents of mutual influence in sport and physical education between both countries.
The project focused on the reciprocal German and British influences on physical education and sport in two areas: the policies for individual and competitive sport and the policies for the masses. The project also dealt with the place and evolution of German and English sport and physical education on the international scene as exemplified through Anglo-German sporting relations, Anglo-German networks and the general position of both countries in the international sports area.

[Work performed]
The realisation of the project required to use knowledge and methods from contemporary history and other disciplines as political sciences, sociology and modern languages. Most sources for the project were located in Berlin and London. The researcher visited various archives and libraries in Germany and the UK, in particular The National Archives in London and the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.

[Main results]
The project contributed to fill a gap in the writing of European historiography of sport, fitness and international relations. The results show that there was a close collaboration between British and German sportspeople and leaders. Most interestingly, the German model of sport during the Nazi period had a particularly strong influence on British attitudes, not only to sport but also to health and fitness issues. Indeed, while the British had previously influenced innumerable people across the world, in the interwar period, the tendency was reversed. This was best illustrated by the British quest for a suitable national scheme to promote fitness among the people – a quest that expressed the deep anxiety regarding a British decline. In the 1930s visits of both private and public nature were frequent between Germans and Britons. However, while these contracts were considered a State matter on the German side, the British government kept its interest to the minimum. On the eve of World War II, the British gradually pulled back and their flirtation with inter-war fascist forms of physical culture was over.

[Expected final results and their potential impact and use]

The results of the project have demonstrated the validity of the research topic. The sources were very rich and inspiring. The dissemination of results through articles and conferences will go one after the end of the project. The defence of Dr. Bolz’s habilitation at the end of the project period attracted much interest from the scientific community. What is more, the project results opened new research areas, which will be investigated in the future. Indeed, during the research period, the ground was prepared for more publications and future international collaborations.