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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 01 February 2011

31 January 2011

For more than six years, hardly a week has gone by without a friend or a fan or a coach or a fellow historian asking me, “Why a book? Wouldn’t this enormous project of yours work better as a DVD or even better, a website? Frame-by-frame analysis only goes so far. Wouldn’t it be so much better to be able to click on a link and see the actual film of the boat rowing, hear the coxswain’s commands, the coach’s voice? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to update the work whenever a new source or a new image or a new film surfaces? Why this could be a Wikipedia for rowing! Wouldn’t that be great???”

Well, I can tell you I gave this a lot of thought. I decided that for me personally it wouldn’t be great. There already is a Wikipedia, and there is a lot of information on rowing on it, and more every day. There already are wonderful websites. I go to www.rowinghistory.net and www.row2k.com every single day, and my bibliography lists nearly twenty more sites that answer the most amazing questions. Who won the GDR Championship in the women’s quad in 1973? How tall were the members of the 1988 Canadian Olympic Team? Can I view newsreel coverage of the 1953 Boat Race or the 1972 Olympics? And it’s all getting better every year.

It’s amazing. I use the internet. I celebrate the heroes who have brought rowing to the internet. But it’s the personal calling of others and not me. It’s already being done and done well.

What about all the oral history I’ve gathered? Everybody loves them on the several websites where they have been featured? These stories are unique, entertaining, inspiring, informative. Why not make them all available in one place on the internet?

I’ll tell you why. I am indeed a story teller, but I am first an historian. What has truly excited me every day for the last seven years is the connections. For example, the story of the 1936 British Double or the 2004 U.S. Men’s Eight is fascinating in itself, and the stories are terrific, but it really comes alive for me when you get to see the boat in its historical context. How did the athletes develop? How did they come together? How did they row? Who influenced them? Whom did they influence? You just can’t get that in an encyclopedia, a Wikipedia.

But you can get it from an old-fashioned book. My old-fashioned book.

I imagine readers at their desks reading a chapter and checking the numerous footnotes at the bottom of each page which refer ahead and back to other chapters, other eras, and soon all four volumes are open on the desk as the readers move from one to the next.

For me, the fun is the stories. The value is the patterns and the connections, the interrelationships. I’m sorry. That’s virtually impossible to grasp on a computer screen. I have spent seven years seeking out and finding those patterns and connections. And that is why the result must be a book.

Yes, I realize that many people will never read the four volumes start to finish. They’ll go straight to the Table of Contents or the Index and find the page or the chapter that interests them.

Others will browse. There are only a few books you can open at any page and just start reading. Fairbairn is like that, and great coaches today still pick up Fairbairn eighty years after he began writing. I believe that my book will be like that, too, at least for some people. The stories really are awesome, and I take no credit for them. All I did was gather them.

But the patterns will always be there beckoning. In my perfect world, the day will come for every single casual reader to be sucked in, initially interested in a person or a team or a movement, and soon consumed with following the threads of history that pass through the chapter they happen to be reading.

In The Cocoanuts, Groucho Marx never could answer Chico’s question, “Why a duck?” Nor will my answer to the question, “Why a book?” ever satisfy everyone.

My son Philip Mallory, an officer on a U.S. Navy ship on its way to the Persian Gulf, writes: “The history of rowing is the main concern here. What could be better to draw out even more history from the woodwork than releasing an ‘expansive’ work in print edition? Then it would rest on the shoulders of the next generation (I have a feeling I could get roped into this!) to update what could become a more fluid creation in our ‘21st Century inforeality.’”

That would please me greatly.

p.s. Not familiar with "Why a duck?" Look it up on the internet.