Horse Racing and History

6 July 2018 12:55
Mike Huggins and his new book

I studied for my PhD at Lancaster between 1996 and 1999 as a very mature student, then in my early fifties, after an earlier career in primary teaching and teacher training, specializing in the primary curriculum. I was still working part-time as a school inspector all the way through. But I was hugely grateful for all the support I received and I enjoyed my time there immensely, so much that I changed career. A lesson for us all, it’s never too late to change to history!!!!

The history department then had real strengths in social and cultural history. My main supervisor was John Walton, who many students will remember fondly not just for his beard, his questioning of orthodoxies, but also for his enthusiasm for research and his capacity not only to challenge my thinking, but to carefully consider and sometimes accept challenges to his own research. But I enjoyed meeting many other staff members, from Jeffrey Richards on film to Mike Winstanley on regional history.

My thesis was on the social and economic history of British horse racing during the 19th century, and by the following year, I had made it into a book, which was well received and won the North American Society for Sport History prize for sports book of the year. I moved into academic history at what was then St Martin’s College, Lancaster, and rapidly expanded my research and writing into the broader social and cultural history of leisure. By 2009 I had a personal chair. Amongst the many monographs I wrote were two further histories of racing: one for Manchester University Press, Horse Racing and the British 1919-39 (2004), and the most recent Horse Racing and British Society in the Long Eighteenth Century (Boydell, 2018), which looks at racing and urban life, its links to politics and gambling, early rules and regulations, ownership and breeding, and the very early professionalization of the sport. 

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