Book Review: Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages

Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages by Dr Earle F. Zeigler.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 4th March 2016. It has been modified for reposting here.

A while ago, I bought what promised to be a fascinating book with great relevance to the study of historical fencing: Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages, by Dr Earle F. Zeigler.[1] Unfortunately, I have very little positive to say about the book, as it was full of glaring problems and issues. This review is going to explain just how poorly the book has been put together, and will attempt to show why proper attention to editing and adherence to reasonably high standards are important, even in self-published works.

The book includes 15 chapters, of which four were written by the editor. Of the remaining 11 chapters, not many were written specifically for this book, as most are reprints of articles written for previous journals or books.[2] This is not necessarily a problem, if the scholarship in these articles could be regarded as up to date, but this is not always the case, and some of the scholarship does feel very dated.

For example, it has been growing in consciousness since the 1990s that methods of fighting in European history were actually quite sophisticated, with codified martial systems preserved in manuscripts and printed books. Since the 1990s and the early 2000s, there have been a growing number of amateur, professional and academic publications on the subject, and some academic conferences (including the International Medieval Congress in Leeds and the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo) have begun to include panels discussing the study of historical European martial arts. Yet the general bibliography in Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages does not include any of these publications (not even the ubiquitous academic textbook on the subject, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe,[3] published in 2000), and some of the older articles included in Earle’s book use phrases such as: “it was only later, after gunpowder had made armor obsolete, that sword fighting made way for fencing”,[4] which of course is a reiteration of the old yet often repeated misconception that the medieval methods of fighting were brutal and unskilled. This is a misconception that has been tackled regularly in publications and at conferences since the 1990s.

However, even though some of the scholarship does appear dated, some of the older articles are excellent. One of the 1949 articles, by Dr Ludwig Joseph on the subject of “Medical Gymnastics in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”,[5] is an excellent piece of work, and I personally found it to be the most interesting chapter in the entire volume. It describes some of the humanistic educators of these centuries and their influence on the concept of medical gymnastics; in other words, how doctors and normal people could utilise different types of gymnastics to achieve different medical goals. It is fascinating to see what various physical exercises were assigned as cures or preventative measures for different physical and medical complaints, such as arthritic joints, epilepsy, chronic headaches, and pregnancy.

Unfortunately, not all the chapters are referenced properly or given correct attribution by the editor; they appear to have been placed into this book without any citation to show where they were published originally. Correct attribution and referencing is important within academia, and that the editor has ignored this raises some serious red flags about the integrity of the work. Furthermore, the editor seems to have retyped the articles into this book by hand, introducing his own punctuation and copying errors throughout.[6]

Some of the chapters do make reference to the difference in physical activities between knights/nobility and burghers, and the exhortation for people to learn fencing and wrestling is mentioned several times. One article even mentions two of the fencing guilds, the Marxbrüder and the Vitusbrüder, although it goes into no further detail about them and their work.[7] However, while many articles go into plenty of detail about the Ancient Greeks and the Olympics, none go into any detail about the medieval and renaissance fencing schools, the fechtschulen and other competitive/sportive fencing events, or provide much useful information about how people engaged with the physical activities of fencing or wrestling.

The book was published through Trafford Publishing in 2006. Trafford is a self-publishing, print-on-demand company,[8] in the same vein as Lulu, CreateSpace or Smashwords. This is not necessarily a problem, as there have been many excellent books published through these services. However, it is important to note that such companies do not take over all the functions of a traditional publishing company (such as copy-editing, for example), unless the appropriate upgrade package is purchased by the author; if an author simply self-publishes through the service, without buying any upgrade packages, then it is up to the author to provide the final file ready for printing. If the author does not engage an editor to work on his manuscript, then it is solely his or her own efforts that will be in the final manuscript that goes to print.

Comparatively, a traditional publishing house will ensure that a title undergoes sufficient editing to make it fit for publication, and will not stake their reputation on a badly edited volume. This is exactly what I am trying to do with Fallen Rook Publishing: to run an ethical publishing house, that helps authors to produce a higher quality of finished manuscript, so that our books suffer from fewer errors, and benefit from stronger and tighter writing than most self-published works.

The quality of the editing in Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages is abysmal. Punctuation is not consistent: for example, some quotes are surrounded by “simple” speech marks, yet other quotes are surrounded by “smart” speech marks, and sometimes “quotes’ open with one type of speech marks and close with another! Commas and full stops are often used interchangeably (and incorrectly). Section headings are sometimes italicised and sometimes not. Centuries are described sometimes with numbers and sometimes with words: the same sentence may talk about “the 16th century and the seventeenth century”.

Notes are inserted in some articles, but it is unclear whether these are original notes by the original authors, or new notes by the volume editor. In terms of the chosen referencing and citation method, some articles utilise endnotes, others utilise inline citations, and some of the editor’s own articles do not actually have a bibliography, but instead refer to the more general bibliography for the entire book.

In terms of layout and formatting, the book is not pretty, and in places looks very amateurish. The typesetting is also not always correct according to modern conventions: rather than a long dash character, the editor often uses two small dash characters–like so, as per an old typewriter convention that has little relevance in the modern age. Due to all the errors in layout, typesetting, punctuation, formatting, and the general inconsistencies, it is often challenging to engage with the writing.

In summary, the editing, layout, formatting and typesetting of the book is weak, and clearly a professional editor was not engaged to raise the quality of the finished work. The selection of articles is not ideal, as it includes many articles from the previous century and relatively few new articles were written specifically for inclusion in this volume. The bibliography covers a wide variety of topics, but has almost nothing to do with the subject of fencing, wrestling, or other European martial arts, even though the book does touch on the subject and there had been scores of publications on the subject by the time this book was published in 2006. The whole book feels very rushed, as if the editor threw everything together quickly in an effort to squeeze out a publication without any thought towards quality.

There is nothing wrong with using self-publishing, print-on-demand services to create books and bring good quality research into the world; but using these services requires that the project leader engages competent, professional editors in an effort to produce a work of acceptable professional quality. Any lack of quality cannot be attributed to the printing service, but rather to the author or editor who submits the final manuscript for printing; I fear that Dr Zeigler must bear the full responsibility for the mess and errors that permeate his book Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages.

If you are working on writing a book, please do consider getting in touch with us at Fallen Rook Publishing so that we can help you turn your labours into a well-polished publication. Even if you would rather self-publish your work at the end of the project, we can offer competitive rates for the editing services that every written publication needs to involve.


[1] Earle F. Zeilger. Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages. Champaign: Trafford Publishing, 2006.

[2] Seven are dated to the 20th century: three of these articles date from 1949, one from 1957, one from 1968, one from 1984. One of the editor’s own papers was a reprint of an article he had published in 1993. Three chapters are undated, of which one (“Our Legacy From the Middle Ages” by Moolenijzer) appears to date back to volume 11 of the Quest journal in 1968, although no proper attribution is provided to confirm this.

[3] Sydney Anglo. The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

[4] Nicolaas Moolenijzer. “Our Legacy From the Middle Ages.” Sports and Physical Education in the Middle Ages. Page 182. Article originally published in: Quest 11 (December), 1968, pages 32-43.

[5] Dr Ludwig Joseph. “Medical Gymnastics in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.” Sports and Physical Education in the Middle Ages. Pages 138-159. Article originally published in: CIBA Symposia vol. 10 no. 5, 1949, pages 1041-1053.

[6] The editor exhibits certain common mistakes in his own writing, and these same mistakes are observed with regularity throughout the reproduced chapters. It is a reasonable guess that these errors were not present in all of the original articles, but were created when the editor copied the articles into his manuscript.

[7] Nicolaas Moolenijzer. “Our Legacy From the Middle Ages.” Sports and Physical Education in the Middle Ages. Page 189.

[8] Trafford Publishing. Accessed 8th December 2015.