What If We Loved History Like We Love Football?

This past weekend’s football frenzy—the NFL playoffs (huzzah for the Patriots!) and the college football championship game (congratulations to THE Ohio State University)—got me thinking about how much Americans love this sport, and how extensive the cultural and media infrastructure is that aids and abets this love.

And then I started thinking: what if history exerted such power over our time, our clothing purchases, our relationships with other people, and our Facebook posts?

Here’s what this alternative universe might look like:

Pop Warner. Kids start early, reading history texts and writing essays. They join local teams and face off against each other in history competitions, whose final rounds are nationally televised. Parents bring orange slices. Because hydration.

Recruitment. Department chairs receive reports from their scouts, looking to fill their undergraduate and graduate ranks. One day several chairs appear in Mrs. Moore’s AP U.S. History class, observing from the back row. Everyone has heard about this kid, the one who can discuss the social and cultural origins of slavery in the Atlantic world with precision and speed. She is even better than her highlight reel. The chairs try to comply with recruiting bylaws during the contact period, but they take risks for this kid. NCAA sanctions be damned.

College Game Day. Thousands of students gather in parking lots to eat brats and drink beer, wearing hats and jerseys declaring their loyalties. Then they file into lecture halls and start chanting, then cheering loudly as history majors and PhD students approach the podium to give presentations on their semester-long research papers. When a young medievalist from Georgia makes a particularly insightful point about how “Dante’s idea of love in the Comedy was shaped by both Plato & Paul” the crowd roars. Unfortunately, more than one undergraduate ends up at Student Health Services with alcohol poisoning.

The Combine. It is February in Indianapolis, and fans stream and live-tweet a weeklong showcase of top history talent. Grad students take the GRE and the Myers-Briggs and then perform a number of tasks in front of hiring committee scouts and journalists. Their tests include:

  • Survey Lecture
  • Book Proposal
  • Seminar Discussion Questions
  • Teaching with Technology
  • Faculty Meeting
  • Hallway Discussion of Pedagogy
  • Student Complaint
  • Broad Jump

The Draft. After the results of the Combine are made public, university and college hiring committees meet in strategy sessions to discuss their draft rankings and choices. Intel on picks is leaked, sometimes on purpose. Then comes the big day, as the nation’s top fifty history prospects hover nervously backstage at Radio City Music Hall, surrounded by their families and their agents. Millions watch during primetime. Central Connecticut State University takes a Latin Americanist from Michigan with their first pick and Twitter explodes. Draft Tracker automatically retabulates the possibilities for the rest of the picks in the first round.

Training Camp. Newbies and veterans spend the summer months in the dorms practicing their lecture delivery, revising dissertations and book manuscripts, and learning to navigate university bureaucracies. Those who can’t keep up get pink-slipped. Those who just miss the cut are assigned to the practice squad, where they challenge department members with questions about their syllabi and IRB regulations.

Post-Class/Post-Panel. Fodder for history talk shows and meme generators, the press conference after classes and panels allow scholars to address the hows and whys of their successes and failures.

I really thought I had nailed the last section of my lecture, but it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.

Even though I wrote 1,237 words today, I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m going to work on my fundamentals, and get back out there.

We just have to take one day at a time, and get our papers ready for the AHA.

Fantasy History. How to build the most successful History department ever? Using Scholar Statistics (Rate My Professor rankings, citation numbers, JSTOR downloads, book sales, and Facebook page likes), fans assemble teams built for power and productivity. They draft ABDs and newly minted PhDs, secure the big stars with Bancroft Prizes through waivers and trades, and make sure they have enough adjunct workhorses to do the heavy lifting. Tenure decisions and personal scandals (“please, PLEASE do not sleep with that graduate student!”) can make or break even the strongest of fantasy teams.

Super History Bowl. The two best departments in the nation go head-to head while fans tune in live, eating nachos and taunting friends on Facebook. They stick around during time outs to watch prominent historians hawk products from Amazon.com, Warby Parker, and Gatorade (because hydration). The department with the largest number of publications and national awards, the highest course evaluation rankings, and the best scores in head-to-head debates about the cultural turn, takes the trophy.

The Off-Season. History fans everywhere count the days until the next Combine, and obsessively read reports about fellowship applications, course proposals, and archival research trips on Grantland.

10 thoughts on “What If We Loved History Like We Love Football?”

  1. Some of this isn’t fantasy. In WV, where my cousin is the Commissioner for Culture & History, he started a WV History Bowl. Teams from all over the state come together to compete for scholarship money. It’s grown from a few teams to dozens of teams. Those who don’t participate feel gypped. I find that encouraging.

    1. Karen, that is awesome! I was also notified (via Twitter) that I can operate my own #FantasySports site — there are possibilities here …

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