Comparative Mountain History in the Modern Period

Swiss National Science Foundation, Research Project 2007-2009
Jon Mathieu, University of Lucerne

International mountain research and politics have expanded remarkably during the last two decades. Special moments of public attention were the "Mountain Chapter" passed by the UN Rio Conference in 1992 and the "International Year of the Mountains" in 2002 which released activities around the globe.

If we want to understand how the mountains of the world could become an issue of sociopolitical concern and commitment at the turn to the 21st century, we have to make a long step back. In fact, the roots of globalized mountain perception are to be found in the early modern period and in the 19th century, when science and alpinism in Europe went into their take-off and beyond traditional limits and boundaries.

The present research project starts with the examination of these long-term processes in science, culture and politics which changed our attitudes to mountains. It then takes up a series of historical issues, discussed by recent scholarship, and tries to put them into a comparative framework. For that purpose, the study considers variable samples of mountain areas worldwide, and selected periods since 1500. The topics examined are: 1. globalization of mountain perception; 2. population and urbanization; 3. agriculture, family and mobility; 4. indigenous forms of mountain perception and modernity.

In current research, mountain regions receive a great deal of attention by natural sciences and by geographical studies which often privilege spatial approaches. The Comparative Mountain History-project hopes to complete them, to some extent, by putting human actors and the chronological order at the centre.

Flyer (German)