Peter Borsay is on a mission to assert the importance of the history of leisure and rescue it from the scorn of traditional historians and cultural theorists who lose touch with the lived experience. It is a noble mission and one that he carries out impressively. He adopts not a chronological narrative but a thematic analysis that allows him to engage with all the major debates in leisure history.
There are broadly two types of leisure historian: one sees the Industrial Revolution as "a great divide"; the other stresses continuity between pre-industrial and industrial Britain. Borsay is a continuity merchant, hence his timespan (1500-2000). He argues that leisure is a fundamental part of the economy, predicated on supply and demand, and he explains the various arguments for commercialisation in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries as intensifications of the same process.
Borsay challenges the recent downplaying of class to argue that leisure played a vital role in expressing and moulding class distinctions. He accepts the notion of top-down and bottom-up cultural diffusion but is wary of the idea of a shared culture, pointing to the distinctive differences in leisure experience dictated by age, gender, ethnicity, locality and religion.
With its clear focus on themes, issues and debates, this will be an invaluable textbook for courses on leisure and popular culture.
Jeffrey Richards is professor of cultural history, Lancaster University.
A History of Leisure. First Edition
Author - Peter Borsay
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 306
Price - £15.99
ISBN - 0 333 93082 7