The History of Gym Class

Rebecca R. Noel explores the sometimes alarming, sometimes hilarious backstory of what we now know as gym class. Physicians worried since the Renaissance that the sedentary, scholarly life makes people sick. They focused on varying concerns over time: digestive woes, melancholy, tuberculosis, spinal curvature, reproductive weakness. The problem widened along with access to education during the Enlightenment and into the 1800s. Tracing this idea from Europe to the United States, from scholars to children, and from boys' to girls' education, the presentation shows how these fears inspired schools to get children moving. The (optional) interactive aspects of the presentation will include audience testing of historic exercise schemes, some done in pairs. The program concludes with audience discussion of the relevance of this problem to our own times-like the Enlightenment, a moment in history when suddenly many more people live the sedentary lives once limited to a few scholars.