Kinesiology, Genealogy, and An (Ephemeral) Quantitative Turn

By Jaime Schultz

I confess: prior to 2005, when I landed my first academic position, I had never heard the word kinesiology. That may not be entirely true. I probably heard it or read it somewhere (most likely on a NASSH program), but the term didn’t register. It didn’t resonate. I had no idea what kinesiology meant. Today, I am still employed in a department of kinesiology, albeit at a different institution, and I’ve spent the last eleven years struggling to understand my disciplinary home and the relevance of sport history within it. In the process, I have come to the conclusion that it is imperative for us to maintain and augment the presence of sport history in departments like mine and, by way of a little genealogy, I hope to convince readers of the same.

I have learned that kinesiology, at least in the United States, emerged from efforts to scientize the field of physical education, a process provoked by James B. Conant’s 1963 The Education of American Teachers, Franklin M. Henry’s 1964 “Physical Education: An Academic Discipline,” and the contemporary Western Conference (Big Ten) of Physical Education Directors’ “body-of-knowledge” project.[1] The results of these mid-century milestones were to establish physical education as an academic discipline, as well as a field that provided professional training, and to recognize history among its core specializations. All the while, according to Robert K. Barney and Jeffrey O. Segrave, Guy Lewis and his compatriots sought to establish a society for sport historians.[2]

Sport history, as with all of physical education’s sub-disciplines, became increasingly specialized, as evidenced by organizations such as NASSH and publications analogous to the Journal of Sport History. With specialization came fragmentation and the field transformed dramatically. In some places, administrators dropped physical education altogether as a number of departments became Exercise Science, Sport Science, Sport Studies, Human Movement, Human Kinetics, and Kinesiology. The trend spun out of control in the 1980s, when colleges and universities used as many as 100 different names for the area of study once known as physical education.[3] By the end of the decade, as Karl M. Newell declared, “physical education in higher education is in a state of chaos.”[4]

Newell was among those who led the charge to establish kinesiology (a term physical educators had used since at least 1886, according to Joan Paul) as the unifying title.[5] Over time, his proposal gained currency. For instance, the American Academy of Physical Education, established at the beginning of the twentieth century, became the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education in 1993. Seventeen years later, the organization’s illustrious fellows voted to drop “Physical Education” from its official designation to become National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK).

What does this have to do with NASSH? To take a reluctant “quantitative turn” here, part of the answer can be found in the formula the NAK uses every five years in its “Doctoral Program Review.” There are two indices taken into account: faculty (66 percent) and graduate students (34 percent). Within the faculty index are “Productivity” (30 percent), “Funding” (26 percent), and “Visibility” (10 percent). Sport historians in doctoral-granting kinesiology departments (of which there are few, more on that later) may fare well when it comes to visibility, but the other two categories should sound some alarms. When it comes to productivity, 20 percent is devoted to the number of journal articles faculty members publish, 5 percent is based on the number of books they produce, and the final 5 percent is dependent upon the number of presentations delivered. Here’s the gist: a book is weighted the same as a conference presentation; a book is worth one-quarter as much as a journal article.[6] Tack on another 26 percent for funding, which can be terribly difficult for a historian to secure, and the alarm bells ring louder and with greater urgency.

The end result of this disheartening calculus, I fear, is that as sport historians retire or leave kinesiology, shortsighted administrators will fail to replace them with similarly inclined scholars. Those at the helm may see little value in bringing aboard individuals who do not contribute to the department’s statistical prominence. Good historical research takes time and historians typically work alone. Together, those two factors make it unlikely that sport historians will publish articles at rates similar to their scientific colleagues. If they do, the quality may suffer, doing damage to our field. And because books register so little in the NAK’s ranking system, historians may be steered away from these time consuming, though exceedingly important projects, which, again, is to the detriment of sport history.

In fact, the majority of NASSH members work in departments that resemble kinesiology. I know this because Andrew D. Linden, a burgeoning sport historian at Adrian College (although employed in the Department of Sport Management–the trend toward sport management deserves its own essay in this forum, I think), exercised a tedious Internet search to determine the departmental homes of our constituency. Based on the 2014 membership, we found that 42.5 percent of identifiable NASSHers come from kinesiology, physical education, sport studies, and similarly titled departments (e.g., human kinetics, sport management, exercise science, human development). An additional 31.5 percent of our affiliates reside in history departments. At 8 percent, and rounding out the top three spots, were members from American Studies or Canadian Studies.

Admittedly, very few of our members belong to kinesiology departments that the NAK includes in its ranking system and that, in my estimation, is a problem. Whether kinesiology is the appropriate home for sport history is another debate entirely, but I urge us all to think about the decline in sport history graduate programs and what that means for the future. Consider the status of previously vibrant programs, such as the University of Massachusetts. A glance at the “the list of graduate students drawn to UMass during the late 1960s and early 1970s,” write Barney and Segrave, “reads like a Who’s Who of future leading sport studies scholars.”[7] Guy Lewis was there to guide them from the start. What is the state of sport history at the school today? If the most current NASSH data is any indication, no one at the institution is a member of our organization. The University of Illinois was once another hotbed of sport history. It was there that Marvin Eyler, who as Alan Metcalfe contends, “was the most important single figure in the creation of NASSH,” received his PhD in Physical Education under the supervision of the venerable Seward C. Staley.[8] Yet, the only NASSH member at Illinois today is in the School of Labor and Employment Relations.

And what about the University of Maryland, where Eyler landed to establish a program that produced so many of our top scholars (including Lewis)?[9] Although the Kinesiology department includes scholars of “Physical Cultural Studies,” there is no one who currently specializes in sport history and no one at the entire school holds an existing membership in NASSH. In recent years, two sport historians have left Maryland (I’m one of them) and neither were replaced. Well before that, historian Nancy Struna, who also studied under Eyler, moved across campus from Kinesiology to American Studies. She posed a question in 1997 that bears repeating today: “whither sport historians, and sport history, in departments of exercise/sport science or kinesiology?” In an essay published that same year, Alan Ingham gave some insight. Once kinesiology was “embraced either in name or in spirit,” he wrote, “the writing was on the wall for those in our field who were engaged in the humanities and the soft social sciences. Thus, over the last twenty years, we have seen either the marginalization or the elimination of those who would qualify as humanistic intellectuals.”[10] Twenty years later, the trend continues.

Of course, it’s not just kinesiology that has experienced the loss of sport history programs. The Ohio State University has essentially dissolved its Sport Humanities department. The department of Health and Sport Studies at the University of Iowa now operates within American Studies. There are horror stories from around the country about the devaluation and dismissal of sport historians. I know how lucky I am to be in a supportive kinesiology department at Penn State. I am luckier still, as Maureen Smith alluded to in an earlier post for this forum, to boast both a sport philosopher and a sport historian as my colleagues. I’d love to see others enjoy similar comfort and camaraderie at their own institutions, as opposed to just once a year at our convention.

To return to the purpose of this forum, which, as NASSH President Kevin Wamsley explains, is to ensure “that sport history be supported as an important area of research,” there are many tactics to consider. We could co-author and co-present more often, or partner with scientists whose interests intersect with our own. A number of our esteemed comrades have already made strong cases for greater interdisciplinarity the importance of humanistic inquiry in kinesiology. Patricia Vertinsky, for instance, points out that a cultural perspective reminds scientists that, “although the bodies they study might appear natural–a biological entity–they have also been constituted in particular ways in response to social and cultural arrangements and beliefs.”[11] And Douglas Hochstetler reminds us that while “it could be argued that scientists could learn from the humanities, the situation cuts both ways.”[12]

In comparison, my two proposals are embarrassingly modest and specific. First, sport historians, individually and collectively, must lobby the NAK to change its allocations when assessing graduate programs. The chair of the organization is Dr. Karl Newell (University of Georgia); the chair of the Doctoral Review Committee is Dr. John Challis (Penn State University). Let’s write to them and respectfully remind the academy that the humanities have always been integral to kinesiology, that we add a great deal to the understanding of human movement, and that our contributions deserve greater recognition.

Second, and this must sound a bit far afield, the Journal of Sport History needs an “impact factor,” which measures the frequency the average article in a journal is cited in a particular year–a bean-counting absurdity meant to suggest the relative importance of a journal within its field. We have all heard that JSH was once the seventh most frequently cited history journal. We are nowhere near that level of distinction today. An impact factor won’t change that but, although it pains me to recommend we move in this direction, it seems that the lack of this indicator may turn away some excellent scholarship. Pascal Delheye, for example, writes that at his own institution, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, publishing in journals without an impact factor “is advised against (because, in economic terms, it is an opportunity cost).”[13] If we consider the NAK ranking system and the increasingly quantified system for tenure, promotion, and annual faculty “productivity” reviews, this is just one more strategy that contributes to a number of initiatives our current editor, Murray Phillips, has implemented to raise the status and profile of the journal. If we can’t change the rules, sport historians, at least those of us in departments akin to kinesiology, must learn to play the game. If we don’t, we might just find ourselves cut from the team.

Jaime Schultz is the NASSH Secretary and an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the Pennsylvania State University. She can be reached at


[1] James B. Conant, The Education of American Teachers (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963); Franklin M. Henry, “Physical Education: An Academic Discipline,” Journal of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 35, no. 7 (1964): 32-33; Earl F. Ziegler and King J. McCristal, “A History of the Big Ten Body-of-Knowledge Project,” Quest 9, no. 1 (1967): 79-84.

[2] Robert K. Barney and Jeffrey O. Segrave, “From Vision to Reality: The Pre-History of NASSH and the Fermentation of an Idea,” Journal of Sport History 41, no. 3 (2014): 381-400.

[3] Charles B. Corbin, “The Field of Physical Education: Common Goals, Not Common Roles,” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance 6, no. 1 (1993): 85.

[4] Karl M. Newell, “Physical Education in Higher Education: Chaos Out of Order,” Quest 42, no. 3 (1990): 228.

[5] Joan Paul, “Centuries of Change: Movement’s Many Faces,” Quest 48, no. 4 (1996): 534.

[6] “Frequently Asked Questions–Doctoral Program Review,” National Academy of Kinesiology,

[7] Barney and Segrave, “From Vision to Reality,” 387.

[8] Alan Metcalfe, “Marvin Eyler: A Personal Tribute,” Journal of Sport History 32, no. 1 (2005): 71.

[9] See David K. Wiggins, “Marvin Eyler and His Students: A Legacy of Scholarship in Sport History,” Journal of Sport History 32, no. 1 (2005): 77-90.

[10] Alan G. Ingham, “Toward a Department of Physical Cultural Studies and an End to Tribal Warfare,” in Critical Postmodernism in Human Movement, Physical Education and Sport, ed. Juan-Miguel Fernández-Balboa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 161.

[11] Patricia Vertinsky, “Mind the Gap (or Mending it): Qualitative Research and Interdisciplinarity in Kinesiology,” Quest 61, no. 1 (2009): 46. See also John Gleaves, Matthew Llewellyn, and Alison Wrynn, “Sex, Drugs, and Kinesiology: A Useful Partnership for Sport’s Most Pressing Issues,” Quest 67, no. 1 (2015): 1-16; Jaime Schultz, W. Larry Kenney, and Andrew D. Linden, “Heat-related Deaths in American Football: An Interdisciplinary Approach,” Sport History Review 45, no. 2 (2014): 123-144.

[12] Douglas R. Hochstetler, “Handing Each Other Along: Developing Leadership in Kinesiology,” Quest 60, no. 3 (2008): 337-8.

[13] Pascal Delheye, “Prologue,” in Making Sport History: Disciplines, Identities and the Historiography of Sport, ed. Pascal Delheye (London: Routledge, 2014), xvi.