Baseball: From Genesis to Numbers
SEATTLE PACIFIC UNIVERSITY Professor of History Bill Woodward loves to talk baseball — and people love to listen. He's currently on a two-year-long lecture circuit, speaking to audiences in small towns across Washington state. One of his topics, based on a University Seminar class he teaches for SPU freshmen, is the history of baseball presented as a microcosm of the history of America.
Recently he delivered the lecture, "Baseball in America: A Cultural Epic of Biblical Proportions," five times in 10 days. "This past academic year I had more than 20 speaking engagements," says Woodward, "from Walla Walla to Orcas, from Hoquiam to Metaline Falls." He speaks in school auditoriums, libraries, grange halls and church basements. "It's wonderful to see how many people in small towns are enthused about intellectual offerings," he says.
Small-town Washington is enjoying Professor Bill Woodward's traveling lectures on "Baseball in America: A Cultural Epic of Biblical Proportions." This photo of Woodward reciting "Casey at the Bat" was published in The Othello Outlook.
The lecture is part of "Inquiring Mind," a successful program of the Washington Commission for the Humanities. Twenty scholars are chosen to participate in the program for two-year terms. Each prepares two lectures, which are then offered statewide.
Woodward sees this off-campus work as strategic outreach. "It's an opportunity for people to hear a representative from SPU, and it's an educational service to our communities," he says. "Because I use biblical language to represent the primary epochs of baseball and American history, it's also a way of reminding people that understanding religious allusions is important to being an educated person."
From the "genesis" of the 19th-century game to baseball's current obsession with "numbers," Woodward uses his witty biblical allusions to draw people into history. He also gives a one-man rendition of the beloved poem from 1888, "Casey at the Bat."
"Baseball has changed little since 1888," says Woodward. "It still attracts us because, like life itself, it combines stretches of inaction with moments of intense action." Though the game seems timeless, he continues, it also reflects historical changes. From race relations to media-created celebrities, patriotic symbols to labor struggles, he shows how "baseball marks the times and mirrors the culture."
Next up? In September, Woodward gives his baseball talks in two more Washington towns: Friday Harbor and Mount Vernon. Joining him on next year's circuit will be two other Seattle Pacific faculty members: Don Holsinger and Todd Rendleman. For more information, visit www.humanities.org .
— By MARGARET D. SMITH
— PHOTO BY CHUCK ALLEN/THE OTHELLO OUTLOOK
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