Re-thinking mountains : ascents, aesthetics, and environment in early modern Europe
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Mountains are among the most visible and culturally loaded landforms of the modern world. From the late eighteenth century onwards they have, in western contexts, acted as sites of nationalism, masculinity, heroism, and environmentalism, shaped largely by the defining activity of modern mountaineering. This thesis will explore the position of mountains in British and European culture before the apparent advent of climbing 'for its own sake'. What did people think, feel, or know about mountains in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries? Did they ever climb mountains, and, if so, for what reasons? What cultural associations - good or bad - were attached to the mountains of the early modern mind? Drawing upon natural philosophical debates, travellers' accounts, and poetry, this thesis will examine the nature and contexts of early modern mountain knowledge, activities, aesthetics, and literary representation. In so doing it will present a picture of varied and often enthusiastic mountain engagement, whether on an intellectual or physical level, which runs contrary to the accepted historiographical perception that mountains were generally feared, disdained, and avoided before the advent of mountaineering. It will therefore also interrogate the origins of the idea of premodern 'mountain gloom', proposing that it is not so much a statement of historical fact as a key tenet of the modern cultural discourse of mountain appreciation.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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