Cultural History of Boxing in the United States – Syllabus


Instructor: Roberto José Andrade Franco


Course Description

This course presents an overview of boxing’s societal impact in the United States. We will begin in the nineteenth century and look at boxing’s evolution across the twentieth century and conclude with the current state of boxing. Each class will use one specific boxer as a lens to discuss broader historical topics occurring at time in which they fought. Gender, race, ethnicity, class, and demographic change resulting from immigration are among the topics involved with each discussion centered on boxers and their sport. Each class meeting will include lectures, screening of boxing and history documentaries, and guided discussions. Periodically, guests will join us to discuss their role in boxing. The course considers the social and cultural impact of boxing in the United States—with a lesser focus on other countries.

Required Text*:

Early, Gerald (editor), The Cambridge Companion to Boxing (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

ISBN-10: 1107631203

*Additional material will be distributed in class or placed on Canvas.

Course Schedule* 

Thursday 5/14 – John L. Sullivan


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 2, “The Bare-Knuckle Era” by Elliott J. Gorn.
  • Read Elliott J. Gorn, “Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch”: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry,” The American Historical Review 90, no. 1 (February 1985): 18-43.

Friday 5/15 – Jack Johnson


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 23, “Black Slaver: Jack Johnson and the Mann Act” by Rebecca Wanzo.
  • Read Alderman, Joshua Inwood, and James A. Tyner. “Jack Johnson versus Jim Crow: Race, Reputation, and the Politics of Black Villainy: The Fight of the Century.” Southeastern Geographer 58, no. 3 (2018): 227-49.

Monday 5/18 – Jack Dempsey


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 6, “Harry Greb, Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, and the Roaring Twenties” by Carlo Rotella.
  • Read Richard V. McGehee, “The Dandy and the Mauler in Mexico: Johnson, Dempsey, Et Al., and the Mexico City Press, 1919-1927.” Journal of Sport History 23, no. 1 (1996): 20-33.

Tuesday 5/19 – Benny Leonard


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 11, “Jews in Twentieth-Century Boxing” by Steven A. Riess.
  • Read Stephen H. Norwood, “”American Jewish Muscle”: Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Ring, 1890-1940,” Modern Judaism 29, no. 2 (May 2009): 167-193.

Wednesday 5/20 – Joe Louis


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 13, “Joe Louis: “You Should Have Seen Him Then” By Randy Roberts.
  • Read Richard Wright, “High Tide in Harlem: Joe Louis as a Symbol of Freedom,” New Masses, July 5, 1938: 18-20.

Thursday 5/21 – Rocky Marciano


  • Read William Nack, “The Rock,” in Sports Illustrated, August 23, 1993: 52-68.
  • Read Russell Sullivan, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of his Times (Champagne: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 1-5.

Friday 5/22 – Benny Paret


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 17, “Emile Griffith: The Underrated Champion” by Mark Scott.
  • Read Christina D. Abreu, “The Story of Benny “Kid” Paret: Cuban Boxers, the Cuban Revolution, and the U.S. Media, 1959-1962,” Journal of Sport History 38, No. 1 (Spring 2011): 95-113.

Monday 5/25 No Class – Memorial Day

Tuesday 5/26 – Muhammad Ali


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 15, “Echoes from the Jungle: Muhamad Ali in the Early 1970s” by Lewis A. Erenberg
  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 28, “Muhammad Ali: King of the Inauthentic” by Gerald Early

Wednesday 5/27 – Mike Tyson


  • Read Gerald Early, “Mike’s Brilliant Career.” Transition, no. 71 (1996): 46-59.
  • Read Hoffer, Richard, “Make Way For Brother Mike!”: When Tyson Left Prison The First Time.

Thursday 5/28 – Julio Cesar Chavez


  • Read Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 9, “A Century of Fighting Latinos: From the Margins to the Mainstream” by Benita Heiskanen.
  • Read Roberto José Andrade Franco, “Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Lost So Much More Than a Fight,” Deadspin, May 11, 2017.

Friday 5/29 – Floyd Mayweather


  • Read Brin-Jonathan Butler, “Poison Oasis: Mayweather vs. Pacquiao,” SB Nation, May 5, 2015.
  • Read Patrick Redford, “Four Days in the Squall of a Superfight,” Deadspin, August 30, 2017.

Monday 6/1 Claressa Shields


  • Read The Cambridge Companion to Boxing, chapter 10, “Women’s Boxing: Bout Time” by Cathy Van Ingen
  • Read Sarah Deming, “Claressa Shields is the Real Million Dollar Baby,” Deadspin, May 24, 2017.

Tuesday 6/2 Final Exam


*Additional material may be assigned occasionally.