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Baseball Commissioner Selig endows history chair at UW-Madison

August 27, 2010 By Chris DuPre

Allan H. “Bud” Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, has made a major gift to endow the Allan H. Selig Chair in History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Selig, one-time owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, earned his bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from UW–Madison in 1956.

This distinguished chair will support a new faculty position in United States history that will focus on the relationship between sports and society from 1900 to the present. The scholar, who has yet to be chosen, will teach, conduct research and publish scholarship on the development of American professional sports in their larger national and social contexts, including race, gender, labor relations, “mass culture” and economic organization.

“This gift from Commissioner Selig allows the department to take a leading place as a scholarly center for the study of sports in their larger social, economic and cultural contexts, thus adding a new dimension and added richness to our broad offerings in American history,” says Professor David McDonald, the outgoing department chair. “At the same time, we hope the scholar who occupies that chair will play a pioneering role in the development of American sports history, to complement the many existing ‘Wisconsin schools’ in diplomatic, Western, women’s, African, Latin American and other fields in our discipline.”

UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin agreed that the gift will help expand the university’s scholarship.

“The commissioner’s gift will add an important new dimension to our history program and help us see sports from varied and important vantage points and understand how sports help shape us and our society,” Martin says.

McDonald says the chair will serve the Department of History and the larger profession in several important ways. One is the study of sports as an integral element in the lives of people in large parts of American society.

“Since the late 19th century, the growth of sports has both affected and reflected larger currents of American development, embracing millions of fans and observers who follow professional, amateur and high-profile collegiate sports in the press or in the stands,” McDonald says. “The growth and increasing pervasiveness of sports as a focus of American life provides excellent insight into the rise of modern business, labor relations and the role played by the media in American life.

“At the same time, the decline of classic ‘amateurism,’ the fierce debates over intercollegiate athletics, and the entry of previously marginalized groups and women into the mainstream of American sports show the ways in which changes in American society have affected the seemingly timeless realm of athletic competition.”

Another facet for consideration is the way in which sports and teams have fostered civic and group identity.

“A tour of any American city will inevitably lead one past a stadium or arena that acts as a focus for local civil life,” McDonald adds. “A historian of sports will help our students connect that prosaic fact with the larger currents of the nation’s history and — if one thinks of generations of immigrants and international athletes over the last century — its connections with larger global processes.”