Boxing and American Culture

Full Course Title: 
Boxing and American Culture
Course Number: 
Section Number(s) and Day/Times Taught: 
104: TR 9:30-10:45AM
Fall 2017
The Arts

This course looks at the sport of boxing through a multi-faceted lens utilizing sources from history, gender studies, literature, film, art, and the social sciences in an attempt to understand how the sport has both reflected and shaped American culture.  Readings will focus on the origins of the brutal sport of bare-knuckle boxing in America in the 19th century; the boxing matches between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling that captivated the world; the ugly—and surprisingly racial—relationship between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali; and how a woman discovers power and insight when she takes up boxing.  We will look at such complex questions as:  Why did an African-American winning the heavyweight championship of the world in 1908 result in riots across the United States?  Why is boxing called the “manly art”?  How do the concepts of masculinity, femininity, and homosexuality get played out inside the boxing ring?  Why were nearly thirty percent of boxing champions in the United States in the 1930s Jewish when Jewish-Americans comprised only about three percent of the U.S. population?  Why did Ali refuse to be drafted during the Vietnam War?  How did boxing at the Olympics come to be a Cold War battleground?  Is boxing so dangerous that it should be abolished?  Who was the real “Rocky” of movie fame?  How has boxing been portrayed in American art, literature, and film, and what do these portrayals say about both boxing and the American culture in which it continues to survive?  And while we investigate boxing and American culture we will also be learning about what a university is, what it means to be a student, and how students and teachers are engaged in the same intellectual activities.


Michael Krenn is a Professor of History at Appalachian State University.  He received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University, specializing in the study of U.S. diplomatic history.  He has written five books, the most recent of which is The Color of Empire:  Race and American Foreign Relations.  He is currently at work on a study of the early-19th century natural scientist Samuel George Morton, famous for collecting nearly 1000 human skulls for his "craniological" studies.

Contact FYS

The First Year Seminar is part of the General Education Program located in Anne Belk Hall, Room 250.

Phone: 828-262-2028

Our mailing address:
First Year Seminar
ASU Box 32065
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

Director of First Year Seminar:
Rick Klima

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