At the heart of contemporary kinesiology resides a long history of promoting “physical culture” as a homogenizing and unifying force, linking all of humanity together with a common bond. We routinely prescribe the universal power of physical activity to improve health and well-being across social boundaries and beyond national boundaries. We frame problems and offer solutions that seem to affect all people, in all places, at all times. At the same time, multicultural issues, understood in a broad sense, have captivated students of human movement and shaped the development of the field. The field itself emerged from multiple cultures—academic, intellectual, vocational, and national. The dialectics of culture and the clash of universal and plural perspectives have played an important role in the quest to define the meaning of human movement. Embracing rather than resolving these tensions offers the best strategy for charting creative current and future directions for research and policy in kinesiology.
The role and rights of international fellows in the National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK) have generated much current debate. As NAK works to define its mission and membership in the 21st century, to adjust its traditions and constitution to new realities that make global interchanges far more convenient than they were in 1926 when the society began, many of the members struggle with balancing the rewards of change against the recompenses of continuity. In this context, NAK President Bradley Cardinal approached me to collaborate with him in exploring how the history of NAK might shed light on our current debates. What our history reveals is that the academy has always struggled to be national institution that lives in an international world. Whether we should move in a different direction remains in the hands of the members.
Mark S. Dyreson
Since the origins of Homo sapiens 300,000 years ago, the quest to optimize human performance has shaped historical development. A macrohistorical perspective reveals that for 290,000 years the necessities of survival pushed hunter-forager cultures toward mass improvement of endurance capabilities and weapons skills. The agricultural revolution that began about 10,000 years ago changed those dynamics, focusing on enhancement for elite warriors while simultaneously diminishing the necessity of mass optimization. The multiple revolutions of modernity that began 500 years ago reanimated mass optimization while paradoxically removing physical enhancement from the realm of necessity through the increasing power of human-made motors rather than human locomotion. Microhistorical perspectives reveal that beyond the general patterns that shaped human cultures across time and place, the historical particularities vastly complicated optimization strategies. Employing macro- and microhistorical perspectives can enhance scientific understandings of optimal performance.
Mark Dyreson and Jaime Schultz
Since the 1981 publication of Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Physical Education, the history of physical activity has secured a prominent place in the field of kinesiology. Yet, despite encouraging signs of growth, the subdiscipline still remains an undervalued player in the “team scholarship” approach. Without the integration of historical sensibilities in kinesiology’s biggest questions, our understanding of human movement remains incomplete. Historians of physical activity share many “big questions” and “hot topics” with researchers in other domains of kinesiology. Intriguing possibilities for integrating research endeavors between historians and scholars from other domains beckon, particularly as scientists share the historical fascination with exploring the processes of change over time.