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Today we are joined by David Block, author of Pastime Lost: The Humble, Original and Now Completely Forgotten Game of English Baseball (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). Block is a baseball historian whose research has focused on the origins of the game. Pastime Lost was a finalist for the 2020 Seymour Medal, awarded by the Society for American Baseball Research to the best book of baseball history or biography published the preceding year. His previous book, Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, won the 2006 Seymour Medal as well as the 2006 North American Society for Sport History book award. It is considered the definitive study of baseball's origins.

In Pastime Lost, Block painstakingly recovers the origins of baseball games through a close reading of a wide variety of 18th-century sources including newspaper clippings, novels, and diaries. He also does a statistical analysis of those sources. He discovers that English baseball was a popular folk sport for more than two hundred years, predominantly in the home counties, but also being played as widely as Scotland and Wales. The game enjoyed widespread acceptance among men and women, elites such as Frederick, the Prince of Wales, and ordinary people, especially in the countryside. By the middle of the 19th century, English baseball faded under increased challenges from other ball games including rounders, bat and ball, and cricket. By the first half of the twentieth century, English baseball largely vanished and is now almost completely forgotten. Nevertheless, it is the likely parent of many popular ball games today – even as Block argues, American baseball.

Block’s Pastime Lost, which mixed rich historical investigation with Bill Bryson-esque rollicks across the English countryside, will appeal to readers interested in the long history of bat and ball games.

Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, Agency, and Everyday Life, examines physical culture in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at keith.rathbone@mq.edu.au.

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