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Modernizing Mountains

Tait Keller


     Recent years have witnessed a growing interest in Europe's environment among historians.  Exploring a variety of topics, from fields, forests, and streams to energy consumption, conservation efforts, and landscape reclamation, these scholars emphasize nature's role in Europe's historical development and examine how people have fit into ecosystems over time.1  European environmental history has plenty to offer those who research or teach world history.  Indeed, the two fields share several commonalties.  Both scholarly communities take into consideration global forces of modernization, such as population movements, economic transitions, and the transfer of technology and biota, among others.  Since birds, bears, pollution, and pathogens brazenly traverse political borders, environmental history does lend itself to a transnational approach, and an increasing number of its practitioners are moving in that direction.  Though to a lesser degree than their world history colleagues down the hall, a number of environmental historians work to de-center the nation-state.  This is often done horizontally by taking a macro-approach that investigates interrelated phenomena from around the world.2

     Still, the nation-state remains the central feature of our discipline.  I would like to suggest that a vertical approach, examining the environmental history of certain transnational regions, frontiers where global forces of modernization gather and where exchange occurs, might prove useful in our efforts to reformulate the past.  Regional analysis can challenge the paradigm of modernization that is based on the nation-state.3  Enter the Alps.  During the nineteenth century, tourists transformed the heights from a landscape of dread to one of delight.  Their work involved conquering and then taming the peaks.  Wanderers brought the modern world with them as they manicured the mountains with trails and lodges.  Cars and cogwheel trains altered the Alpine aesthetic.  With the burgeoning tourism industry came structural transformations to the environment and local economies.  Most mountain villages had suffered from significant depopulation during the late nineteenth century.  Then tourism revitalized the region by pumping money from the cities into impoverished vales.  Economic production transitioned from goods to services.  Transhumance farmers now worked as trek guides.  As economies changed so too did the land.  By the start of the twentieth century, tourism had turned the peaks into playgrounds.  But just as playgrounds are sites of turf wars, Alpine recreational areas were zones of conflict.  How adventure tourism modernized the mountains in the late nineteenth century illustrates much broader changes taking place on a global scale as industry and wealth grew immensely.  This topic might also prove useful in the classroom by asking students to explore the roles that sport and nature played in shaping world history.

The Mountain Calls

     The Alps have felt the human touch for millennia.  Neolithic hunters, like Ötzi the Iceman, had braved the heights.4  Roman merchants once frequented the passes.  Dairy farmers had practiced transhumance on the slopes for generations, maintaining somewhat sustainable agrarian practices across the years.  Almost the entire social economy of the mountain dwellers revolved around the Alpine meadows, the "Alp" or "Alm", where cows, goats, and sheep found fodder.  During the nineteenth century, the Alps were often the highlight of a person's European Grand Tour.  Today, these mountains number among the world's most popular tourist destinations and host hundreds of millions overnight guests each year from around the globe.5

     Although the Alps acted more as a filter than a barrier for much of human history, their crags were still forbidding places at the start of the nineteenth century.  Early modern theologians like Thomas Burnet had viewed the mountains as hideous warts on the earth, and their theories continued to shape perceptions of Alps years later.6  Even those who lived on the mountains had no love for the barren heights.  Since they often managed several scattered land parcels located at varying altitudes, Alpine dairy farmers held little interest in the tundra above.  The peaks offered little else except stone, ice, and the "vague idea of endless cold and desolation."  "Above the last green mountain terrace of rock, silent as death, sublime as eternity, looms an unknown land," one traveler observed, "where man and the nature suited to him find no home."7  Reaching a summit demanded exertion that was better spent elsewhere and farmers had no incentive to climb any higher than they had to.  Many high places were inaccessible anyway.  The few highways skirted around hulking mountains and most railroads avoided the rugged regions.  Only the occasional mule track wound its way along the ridges.  Those in the cities faced few options for reaching the Alpine frontier until the Industrial Revolution opened the way.

     By the mid-1860s, industrialization and urbanization were gearing up across continental Europe.  These transformations enabled and encouraged Alpine tourism.  Coal production, iron output, steel manufacturing, and the number of steam-powered machines increased as factories grew and mines expanded.  In most countries, the railway drove the economic boom.  More numerous and powerful locomotives required miles of steel track and consumed greater amounts of coal.  Railway connections spread from the city to the countryside.  Austria's railroad network expanded from just over five thousand kilometers in 1869 to more than ten thousand kilometers in 1875.8  The Arlberg line, the first railroad to run east-west across the Alps from Innsbruck to Bludenz near the Swiss border, began operating in 1883.  Similar tracks soon followed.  With improved connections, journeys that took days or even weeks could now be accomplished in hours.  The reach of rail lines to the Alps meant that the mountains were now connected to ports on the Black Sea, the Adriatic, as well as the North Sea.  Even tourists from across the Atlantic could reach distant Alpine valleys.

     Rail networks stimulated heavy industry and contributed to the construction sector's explosive growth.  Cities bulged beyond their medieval walls as their populations swelled.  New factories, housing tenements, and public buildings crowded the skylines.  With prosperity came pollution.  Coal fires made cities dark with smoke and soot.  Foul air was the hallmark of urban centers, along with sprawl, squalor, and the lack of sanitation.  Health ailments were myriad.  Commentators remained convinced that urban places corrupted everything within their walls and attracted society's more unsavory elements.  Many tourists linked their adoration of the Alps with their revulsion from the city.  The mountains formed a natural antithesis to the growing cityscapes across Europe.  The unfiltered light of the peaks, crisp glacial air, and seemingly pristine snowfields played against the dark alleyways, suffocating atmosphere, and grimy existence.  For those tired of the crowded metropolis, lonely crags offered solitary joy.  The irony was that to flee the city, Alpine enthusiasts depended on the benefits of industry even as they condemned the costs.

     In any case, rail travel required time and money.  Only people with disposable incomes and room for leisure could afford recreational trips to the mountains.  Such luxuries belonged to the affluent.  The industrial era witnessed the emergence of an influential middle class that steadily grew in size, strength, and confidence.  The Alpine allure proved particularly seductive for Europe's urban middle classes.  This attraction to the Alps reflected bourgeois attitudes toward the natural world.  Imposing mountains promised security in a time of rapid social change.  Yet the heights provided more than just a refuge from the pressures of urban life.  Many believed that experiencing "unspoiled" nature, like the Alps, was essential for personal enlightenment.  Reaching the summit developed an individual mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.  Middle-class sensibilities, based on industry, affluence, and the need for achievement, formed the basic building blocks for the growth of Alpine tourist organizations in the nineteenth century.

     The urban bourgeoisie joined newly formed Alpine clubs seeking elation in elevation.  Some found serenity in mountain-climbing.  The harsh terrain at once tested the bounds of human frailty and bestowed strength.  Some enjoyed the danger of death on the heights.  Many praised the recuperative qualities of the mountain's rarified air, whose properties reportedly healed weak lungs, disturbed minds, and troubled hearts.  Others viewed the peaks as the quintessential natural realm, a wild arena, and a sanctuary.  In his famous novel, The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann praised the effects of Alpine tourism.  Standing on the summit removed someone from all relationships and placed that person "in a free and pristine state—indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond."9  In the Alps, vagabond dreams became bourgeois desires.  These fantasies drove many middle-class men, and a few women, into the embrace of the mountains.

     What started as a trickle of urban tourists (and their money) in the early 1860s turned into an avalanche of vacationers, investment schemes, and heavy construction projects a generation later.  Tourist organizations swelled.  These groups tamed the heights.  They blazed hiking trails, erected mountain lodges, mapped summits, published travel aids, and certified tour guides.  The largest Alpine club in the world, the German and Austrian Alpine Association, alone built or renovated over three hundred mountain lodges and expanded countless miles of hiking trails, climbing routes, and walking paths during the late nineteenth century.  Chiseled out stairs along stone ridges, gangways across glaciers, bridges, and ladders provided greater access to remote places.  The 1880s in particular witnessed construction on a massive scale.  The urban construction boom of the nineteenth century also encompassed the Alps.  The acoustics of the landscape amplified the sounds of hammers and saws across the vales; the banging and clamoring echoed for miles.  The entire region sounded like a large construction site.

     Hut construction fueled an entire tourism industry.  Alpine architects drew up blueprints.  Engineers determined location and lay out, often based on water access, although they sometimes failed to account for avalanche routes in their calculations.  Lumber yards and quarries prepared the building materials.  Construction firms transported timber and stone to high altitudes, and provided the labor to put it all together.  Insurance companies offered coverage in the event of rockslides, avalanches, water damage, lightning strikes, or vandalism.

     The money spent on construction projects was staggering.  The Berliner Hut in Austria's Zillertal Range was by far the most extravagant lodge in the Alps, complete with chandeliers, a dining saloon, over sixty individual rooms and a hundred mattresses, and a glass veranda.  In the decade before the First World War, the chapter added a darkroom for photographers, a post office, storage sheds for gear, a telephone connection to the valley below, and a hydroelectric generator for the lights.  The Berliner Hut was excessive even by luxury hotel standards.  Most lodges built in the 1870s and 1880s were modest in size and appearance.  A typical lodge had two rooms on the first floor with small kitchen containing a wood burning stove and a plain dining table with benches.  The neighboring room might offer mattresses for eight to ten people.  A narrow attic might also serve as sleeping quarters.

     Guidebooks, like Karl Baedeker's well-known Handbook for Travelers series, praised development in the mountains.  "The accommodation afforded by the chalets of the Alpine herdsmen is generally far inferior to that of the club-huts," one book advised.  "Whatever poetry there may theoretically be in a bed of hay, the traveler will find that the piercing cold night-air through abundant apertures, the jangling of cow-bells, and the grunting of pigs are little conducive to refreshing slumber."10  To the eyes of Alpine pioneers in the nineteenth century, such projects improved the Alps.  As one writer believed, "The mountains would lose half their charm if the small huts, the tokens of man's supremacy amidst the most savage wastes, were absent."11

     Building infrastructure and facilitating travel to the mountains transformed the economies of the Alps.  The tiny Tyrolean village of Vent typified the changes.  Despite the introduction of manure and other improvements to increase harvest yields in the early 1860s, Vent's economic plight remained dire.  Such a situation was not unusual for rural inhabitants of central Europe.  Although agricultural productivity increased during the mid-1800s as agrarian science improved, new land came into cultivation, markets diversified, and seed prices dropped, most peasants still led hard lives.  The Alpine regions in particularly fared poorly.  Yet what dairymen in villages like Vent had, which farmers in the Hungarian Alföld, that vast central European plain, or peasants on the grand estates in East Prussia did not, were the Alps.  Vent lay to the southwest of Innsbruck, in the Ötztaler Range, among the more massive groups of the Eastern Alps.  Wildspitze (12,368 ft), one of the highest peaks in the region, towered nearby, providing a sense of majesty to the poor valley.  Nestled among the pine needles near the confluence of the Niedertalbach and Rofenache rivers with a view of the two largest ridges of the Ötztaler Group, Vent's panorama was stunning.  The inhabitants, however, had not always considered the view inspiring.  The high summits were oppressive.  More pragmatically, the peaks' mass wasting movements threatened the tenuous hold of narrow meadows with erosion, and the downward creep promised poorer soil.  Residents realized that tourism was the key to their long-term prosperity.  The high mountains soon became a "veritable gold mine" for hamlets like Vent.  "For it is the peaks," as one tourist later observed, "and not the pastures that attract visitors from below to the Alpine glens, and these visitors leave much gold behind them."12  Agriculture had once regulated the tempo of life, but now tourism set the seasons.

     With the changing landscape came a new vision of the Alps.  When the Austrian climbers Robert Hans Schmitt and Johannes Sautner conquered the last impregnable peak, the Five Finger Peak (Fünffingerspitze) in 1890, the mystique of the mountains diminished.  Humans had wrested Europe's upper reaches.13  Some serious Alpinists experienced disappointment.  All that now remained for them in the Alps were technical challenges, such as conquering the Eiger's treacherous north face.  But casual hikers and amateur climbers rejoiced.  The fall of the Five Finger Peak signaled a new era.

A Fractured Landscape

     Fin-de-siècle tourists stormed the Alps.  In response, outdoor clubs cleared more trails and built larger huts.  The cramped shelters from the 1880s could no longer service the multitudes.  A wave of renovations swept the mountains in the early 1900s.  With more trails, larger huts, and better maps, tourists no longer needed personal guides.  Travelers could hop on one of several trains to the mountains, hike to the top, spend the night in a hut, and be back home in time for dinner the next day.  No wonder that thousands made the trip.

     With the injection of affluence, sleepy Alpine hamlets awoke as luxury spa towns and ski resorts.  The Swiss Alps were home to several of the more famous spa towns, like Davos.  But Austria also had a large share of ski resorts.  Little places like Sölden, Ischgl, and Kitzbühel became world-class ski venues.  Once a utilitarian means of crossing snow-bound lands for hunters and mail carriers, skiing emerged as sport in the late 1890s.  As with mountaineering, the wealthy were the prime movers.  The predominance of the Nordic style, and long skis made for practical cross-country travel, gave way to the Alpine downhill approach, with skis like blades, instruments to slice the slopes.14  The new style altered how people used the wintry Alps.  For Nordic enthusiasts, the mountains were no place to ski.  One did not hurtle down sheer inclines at terrifying speeds.  And mountaineers shunned the peaks in winter for fear of freezing to death.  But when Mathias Zdarsky, a Bohemian Austrian, published his manual on Alpine skiing in 1896, The Lilienfelder Ski Technique, he turned downhill skiing into a phenomenon.15  Using a pole and shorter skis, Zdarsky and his students rocketed down the slopes.  What unnerved Nordic skiers thrilled devotees of the Alpine style.  The dreadful steep became a winter wonderland.  Climbers were not the only ones to avail mountains.  Alpine skiing became an increasingly popular pastime, especially among college students.  Young people packed the peaks during their winter break.  They also irritated serious alpinists to no end.  The relationship between climbers and skiers was often a tense one.  Mountaineers believed that skiers misused the Alps and blamed young people for ruining the Alpine aesthetic.

     Despite the misgivings of many climbers, skiing made a permanent mark on the mountains in the years before the Great War.  Mountaineers had conquered the peaks for summer workouts; skiers opened the slopes for winter fun.  New resort hotels that offered discount travel packages seemed to appear overnight.  Where trails crawled up the mountainside, pistes now ran down.  Not wanting to waste hours climbing to the top of the runs, skiers sought out resorts that employed chair lifts.  People had long used ropes and pulleys to haul goods up mountains.  Then the development of stronger steel cables during the Industrial Revolution improved transport technology.  Metal and motors now made the transportation of people feasible.  The first cable car in the Eastern Alps opened in 1908.  The Kohlererbahn traveled one and a half kilometers from Bolzano up to Col di Villa in South Tyrol.  Each carriage carried six people and within two years thousands had enjoyed the ride.  Adolf Bleichert & Company, based near Leipzig, became a world leader in cable car construction.  The firm renovated the Kohlererbahn in 1912, adding steel supports, a new motor that whipped along at two miles an hour, and larger wagons that held seventeen people.  Bleichert also strung ski lifts all along the Alps.16  Resort owners invested heavily in such mechanical features, which acted as lightning rods for the storms of wealthy skiing enthusiasts.

     The attraction worked.  Skiers swarmed through the Alps.  Cable cars pulled people up mountains by the thousands.  Most climbers viewed cable cars as the industrial invasion of the heights, something that they feared more than the hordes of tourists.  A cleared trail was one thing, but a permanent ski lift with its machinery was quite another.  The pious damned cable cars as profane.  As one devout mountaineer explained, "For the true mountain climber the entire mountain (not just the summit) is a living being…for us the high mountain ranges…are a sacred shrine."17  For these true believers, standing on the peak was merely the reward; the purpose lay in the struggle.  Some predicted that industrial incursion into the Alps would pervert Alpine tourism forever.  They envisioned that paved trails would soon give way to cable cars, eventually ruining every important peak with a tram.

     They were right to worry.  Technological innovations advanced travel networks all across the Alps.  As the Austrian state harnessed more hydropower in the mountains, trains converted from steam to diesel electricity.18  More lines slithered along the valleys and new cogwheel railways labored their way up the slopes.  Mountaineers felt conflicted about additional trains in the dales.  New railroads significantly decreased the time required to get from one trailhead to another.  But the trains also disgorged ever-greater numbers of bothersome tourists.  However, climbers had no mixed feelings about cogwheel trains.  Plans to lay tracks up Bavarian mountains horrified serious alpinists.  The most alarming project was the Zugspitze train.  In the late 1890s, bids for an electric cogwheel train up Germany's highest mountain became public.  Initial plans required significant excavations to support tracks and burrowing tunnels over a mile long.19  But financial setbacks delayed the Zugspitze train project and then the outbreak of the First World War suspended it completely, at least for the time being.20

     Meanwhile, in 1910, the industrialist Otto von Steinbeis received approval from the Bavarian government to build the Wendelstein cogwheel train.  He followed the example set by the Swiss.  Years earlier, a Swiss firm had begun construction in the Western Alps on the Jungfrau cogwheel train, the first of its kind in the mountains.21  Like the Zugspitze train proposal, the Jungfrau project had set the mountaineering world afire with anger and anxiety.  Unlike those two more famous mountains, the Wendelstein garnered less attention.  Work on the Wendelstein line lasted two years, a breakneck pace considering the amount of effort required.  Explosions shook the mountain as hundreds of workers hammered and cut their way across the rock face.  The original track ran nearly six miles, crossed two bridges, and traveled through several tunnels.22  The supporting walls alone required tons of quarried stone.  It opened in 1912 as the first operating cogwheel railway in the Eastern Alps.

     As cogwheel trains latched onto the peaks, highways festooned the mountains.  Alpine thoroughfares were not new.  In the early 1800s, Napoleon had laid down roads in the Western Alps for better access to Italy.  The Habsburgs built the Stelvio Pass near Stilfer Joch in the 1820s, which reached the altitude of over nine thousand feet and was for a time the highest road in Europe.23  But instead of helping horses, paved roads now prepared the way for automobiles.  In the late nineteenth century, German and Austrian engineers, like Karl Benz and Siegfried Marcus, were at the forefront of automotive technology.  By the early 1900s, auto manufacturers were firmly established in both countries.  Cars excited passions.  Motor vehicles represented the wave of the future, even if they were still toys for the rich.  The internal combustion engine unleashed an avalanche of change in the Alps.  Highways remade the mountain landscape.  First built for postal trucks and military vehicles, tourist buses soon rumbled along the roads.  Motorists took to the Alps with such gusto that climbers complained about the constant "dust clouds" and "gasoline vapors" from the cars, as well as irksome noise and traffic jams.  How one could balance the "utility value of automotive travel" with the "quiet contemplation of nature" remained entirely uncertain.24

     Modernized mountains brought despair to dedicated mountaineers.  They believed that the high peaks were never intended for the general public, certainly not for cars or cogwheel trains.  Die-hard climbers protested the civilizing of the mountains and the hordes of "dawdling" tourists.  The migration of industry to the mountains was a particular sore point.  More than a few mountain climbers blamed mass tourism and overdevelopment for robbing "real" mountaineers of their pleasure and for polluting the Alpine environment.  The Alps had become so commercialized that several mountaineers refused to hike on Sundays, having no patience for the "swarms and queues" of tourists.25  "Those who seek that holy mountain peace will have to look elsewhere," one climber lamented, "and perhaps not even there."  Many shared his grief, wishing for a place where "Alpine mobs" would not "cramp, aggrieve, and disgust" them.  That these tourists lacked appreciation for nature was perhaps pardonable, but that they brought "mischief, coarseness, clumsy impudence, and triviality" to the mountains was not.26  Nature conservationists feared the worst.  Hiking boots by the millions trampled the delicate Alpine ecology.  Landscape preservation movements emerged, highlighting anxieties about the pace and scope of industrialization and unregulated mass tourism in the Alps.

     Concerned alpinists realized that the only way to protect mountains was to close them.  But few addressed the inherent contradiction of conquering the mountains while simultaneously restricting access.  Many favored the creation of a nature reserve in the Alps to prevent industry from obtaining any more ground.  They took their cues from the United States and Switzerland.  The establishment of Yellowstone Park in 1872 had drawn attention from all across Europe.  Observers discussed the possibility of establishing similar parks in Europe, though on a much smaller scale.  Plans to build a tourist train up to the summit of the Matterhorn mobilized Swiss scientists to action in the early 1900s.  They constituted a Committee for Nature Protection that worked to establish a national park in the Alps.  Unlike the American model, which set aside land for people's enjoyment, the Swiss wanted "total protection" with territory closed to public use.  The newly named National Park Commission found a region with no permanent settlements in a remote part of Lower Engadin, near the country's eastern border.  Starting in 1909, the Commission signed a lease with the local communes, which the federal government took over in 1914.  Hunting, fishing, logging, and farming were banned inside the Swiss National Park.  Armed wardens patrolled the land and insured that visitors abided by the rules.  Some sections of the park were open to tourists, but most of it was reserved for scientific research.27

     Germans and Austrians also worked to create a system of national parks.  A group of Germans established the Association Nature Reserve in 1909 with headquarters in Stuttgart.  The organization's guiding purpose was to set up parks around the country in a variety of regions, where the "primitive state" of nature would be safeguarded against the "progression of culture."28  Adolf Ritter von Guttenberg, a professor of forestry in Vienna, formed the Austrian Nature Reserve Association in 1912, the same year that the Wendelstein train began operations.  His group also lobbied for the creation of a nature reserve in the Alps, where the "original character" of the landscape would be preserved.29  But unlike the Swiss, these groups wanted to preserve landscapes so that certain citizens could enjoy them.  Nature reserves were to be places free from industry and "jaded train-, bus-, and car-tourists," yet still open to the general public.30  The logic here was flawed.  Who determined the privilege of access remained unanswered.  Nevertheless, thousands flocked to the clubs.  The German group looked to lease land in the Austrian Alps near the Niedere Tauern mountain chain in Styria.  In early 1914, the two clubs instead successfully negotiated an Alpine Nature Reserve in Salzburg's Pinzgau region.  The Association Nature Reserve purchased approximately ten square kilometers of land (the Austrian group lacked the funds to make the purchase).  The property later became a building block for the much larger Hohe Tauern National Park, which was established in the 1980s.  The location was ideal for a nature reserve.  The nearby pinnacles of the Glockner and Venediger mountains attracted most tourists away from Pinzgau, the vales were sparsely inhabited, and the landscape was "hardly touched" by culture.  The reserve promised "unspoiled" nature, where even the trees and flowers were protected from grazing sheep and goats.31  The property was meager, especially when compared to Yellowstone or the Swiss National Park.  Yet the Alpine Nature Reserve still represented a moment of triumph for most conservationists.  But for other preservationists, even those efforts were not enough.  In their eyes, so-called "robber barons" and their enterprises, along with thousands of lumbering tourists, continued to occupy the Alps.32

     The desire to protect the beauty of the Alps educed ugliness.  Bigoted mountaineers attempted to minimize tourism's impact by preventing women, workers, and Jews from joining Alpine clubs.  Some tourist organizations maintained open memberships, but kept the fees high enough to exclude the lower classes.  Alpine elitists spurned socialist hikers.  Male chauvinists resented female adventurers in the Alps.  Such groups typically portrayed themselves as a haven for serious climbers who were tired to catering to Alpine dilettantes.  At the turn of the century, several tourist associations in Germany and Austria adopted anti-Semitic statutes.  During these years, the influence of ultranationalist and sometimes anti-Semitic organizations in Germany, such as the Pan-German League and the Navy League among many others, had grown.  Although anti-Semitism was not as large a political actor in nineteenth-century Germany when compared to Austria, the trends within Alpine tourism could not be easily dismissed.  Passions among alpinists burned hotly in Vienna, where anti-Semitism had long been a part of the city's culture and politics.33  Karl Lueger, the Christian Socialist mayor of fin-de-siècle Vienna, directed the anger from economic and social grievances against Jews (and away from his party), and applied these anti-Semitic votes to capture the city.  Austrian Pan-Germans, led by Georg von Schönerer, employed a racial anti-Semitism in their quest to unite Germany and Austria.34  Their hatred infiltrated Alpine organizations and infected young climbers, who brought their bigotry with them to the mountains.  Heightened nationalistic tensions fueled ethnic animosity.  Italian irredentists loathed their lack of control over Austria's South Tyrol.  As machinery seized the mountains and carried more people to the peaks, these fissures widened.

     Not all mountaineers were unaware of the dangers that such developments posed.  As antagonisms sharpened, a new organization, the Friends of Nature, offered an alternative vision of the Alps.  Founded in Vienna by socialists in 1895, the club later spread to Germany in 1905, and then on to Switzerland and other European countries.  It welcomed those whom other clubs had rejected.  The Friends of Nature also constructed lodges and served a conduit to shuttle proletarians away from dark pubs up and up to bright Alpine meadows.  The various interest groups offered competing visions of the landscape, which continued to collide as more vacationers engulfed the Alps.

Modern Mountains

     Lands perceived as "wild" and populated by "backward" people, were "improved" and "modernized" by urban tourists.  Teachers and scholars of world history might often discuss the rationalization and expansion of the modern state in their classroom or their research.  And for many European environmental historians, how states manage and manipulate the natural world is often key to understanding their evolution, power, and shortcomings.  James Scott's book, Seeing Like a State, is an excellent example of such an analysis.35  An environmental history of the Alps, however, moves away from the state-centric approach to the processes of modernization and instead emphasizes the regional level.  Although situated at the heart of Europe, the Alps were on the continent's ecological periphery.  The terrain frustrated mapmakers.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these mountains were a messy maze of political borders, regional divides, ecclesiastical boundaries, ethno-linguistic divisions, and natural rifts that intersected and overlapped each other.  The borderlands were dynamic places where state oversight supposedly met its limits, but where crucial ecological, cultural, and economic transfers occurred.  In many ways, the enterprise of opening the Alps in the late nineteenth century aped the business of imperial conquest and management.  Various development schemes jostled together as visions of land collided.  Tension shaped the heights together with the efforts of voluntary civic associations that attempted to organize the landscape.  Mountains were now more manageable for visitors, impoverished hamlets became prosperous villages, and hard-working dairy famers appeared like props on nature's stage.  The trails and lodges determined how tourists perceived the Alps and presented a particular interpretation of the natural world, which did not necessarily conform to the whims of the state.  Exploring transnational frontiers, such as the Alps, can help elevate regions as useful analytical sites while de-centering the place of the nation-state.

     Examining mountains and adventure tourism can also be applied usefully in the classroom.  Celebrated peaks in the Alps, such as the Matterhorn, the Eiger, or Mont Blanc, or other iconic summits around the world, including Everest, Nanga Parbat, K2, Kilimanjaro, were sites of international convergence and interaction.  They still are.  For contemporaries, mastering the heights became their way of measuring the world.  Although these places rarely attract the same attention in world history courses as the Columbian exchange, the world wars, or the expanding global marketplace, mountains do offer a unique pedagogical tool for teachers.  Even if they have never seen a mountain, students are still somewhat familiar with the more famous summits.  Asking them to explore the heights and understand how human endeavors have shaped even mighty landscapes like the Alps (or the Himalayas, the Rockies, the Andes, and so on) provides students with a different approach to the past.36  For example, students could compare the conquest of the Alps in the nineteenth century with the attempts to conquer Everest in the twentieth century as examples of state expansion, imperial drives, or human folly.  Following the drama of hard-fought victories and heroic failures on historic climbs, or experiencing the intense international competition surrounding the highest places on earth might prove particularly engaging for students.  The sense of daring adventure is already an intrinsic part of the story.  Mountains are loaded with meaning and are ideal analytical sites to understand broader trends in world history.  Taking time to include mountains in a world history course just might get our students to wonder about our often fatal obsessions with the upper reaches of the world, and maybe our students will begin to ponder why distant peaks still linger in our modern imaginations.

Tait Keller is the Mellon Environmental Fellow in the Department of History at Rhodes College.  He is currently finishing a book manuscript on the environmental history of the Eastern Alps.  He has also begun working on his next project, a global environmental history of the First World War.  He can be contacted at


1 The bibliography for European environmental history grows longer every day.  For a listing of titles published from 1976 to 2004, see the European Society for Environmental History's database:  For recent commentaries on the development of European environmental history, see Verena Winiwarter, et al., "Environmental History in Europe from 1994 to 2004: Enthusiasm and Consolidation," Environment and History 10 (2004), 501–530; see also J. R. McNeill, "Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History," History and Theory 42 (2003), 19–21.

2 Anthony N. Penna, The Human Footprint: A Global Environmental History (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 1.

3 See Celia Applegate, "A Europe of Regions: Reflections on the Historiography of Sub-National Places in Modern Times," The American Historical Review 104 (1999), 1157–1182.

4 Brenda Fowler, Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man found in an Alpine Glacier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

5 For good overviews of the Alps, see Jon Mathieu, History of the Alps, 15001900: Environment, Development, and Society, trans. Matthew Vester (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2009); and Werner Bätzing, Die Alpen: Geschichte und Zukunft einer europäischen Kulturlandschaft (Munich: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1991).  For a thoughtful discussion on ethnic borders in the Alps, see John W. Cole and Eric R. Wolf, The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).  Fergus Fleming discusses the early climbs in the Alps in his book, Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps (New York: Grove Press, 2000).

6 For more on the changing views of mountains, see Majorie Hope Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1959); see also Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Minds: Adventures in Reaching the Summit (New York: Vintage, 2004).

7 Friedrich von Tschudi, Sketches of Nature in the Alps (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1856), 184.

8 Max-Stephan Schulze, "The Machine-Building Industry and Austria's Great Depression after 1873," The Economic History Review 50 (1997), 288.

9 Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, trans. John E. Woods (New York: Vintage International, 1996), 4.

10 Karl Baedeker, The Eastern Alps: Handbook for Travelers, 34th edition (Leipzig: K. Baedeker, 1911), xxii.

11 Tschudi, Sketches of Nature in the Alps, 158.

12 W. A. B. Coolidge, The Alps in Nature and History (London: Methuen & Co., 1908), 3; Herbert G. Kariel and Patricia E. Kariel, "Socio-Cultural Impacts of Tourism: An Example of the Austrian Alps," Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 64 (1982), 3.

13 Despite the stir, no one repeated Schmitt and Saunter's accomplishment for several months, until a Dutch woman, Madame Immink, reached the peak in 1891.  J. Sanger Davis, Dolomite Strongholds: The Last Untrodden Alpine Peaks (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896), 110–111.

14 E. John B. Allen, The Culture and Sport of Skiing: From Antiquity to World War II (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 2.

15 Mathias Zdarsky, Lilienfelder Schilauftechnik (Hamburg: Richter, 1896); He described the ski bindings in his brief article, "Der Alpen- (Lilienfelder-) Ski," Mitteilungen des deutschen und österreichischen Alpenvereins (1903), 282–283.  Mitteilungen des deutschen und österreichischen Alpenvereins hereafter noted as MDÖAV.

16 Mary Barker, "Traditional Landscape and Mass Tourism in the Alps," Geographical Review 72 (1982), 397.

17 "Bergbahnen und alpiner Naturschutz," MDÖAV 7 (1913), 107.

18 Walter Conrad, Die kaufmännische Bedeutung der österreichischen Alpenwasserkräfte (Wien: Lehmann & Wentzel, 1910).

19 Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv (BayHsA), MWi 8581, Zugspitzbahn 1913.

20 BayHsA, MWi 8582, Zugspitzbahn 1898.

21 For developments in the Swiss Alps, see Wolfgang König, Bahnen und Berge: Verkehrstechnik, Tourismus und Naturschutz in den Schweizer Alpen, 18701939 (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2000).

22 BayHsA, MWi 8577, Bergbahnen: Wendelsteinbahn, undated.

23 Charles L. Freeston, The Alps for the Motorist (London: Cassell and Company, 1926), 35.

24 Marie Reinthaler, "Neben und über der Dolomitenstrasse," MDÖAV (1912), 172.  See also.  "Automobilfahrten in Tirol," MDÖAV (1900), 193; "Automobilverkehr" MDÖAV (1908), 194.

25 Karl Plank, "Zur Zukunft des Alpinismus," MDÖAV 1 (1912), 7.

26 Historisches Alpenarchiv Innsbruck (HAAI), Innsbruck: Wege, SE 81.503B, Letter to Section Bayerland, 1 May 1909.

27 Patrick Kupper, "Science and the National Parks: A Transatlantic Perspective on the Interwar Years," Environmental History 14 (2009), 60–63; see also Guido Sautter, "Der künftige 'Nationalpark' der Schweiz, ein Vorbild für die übrigen Alpenländer" MDÖAV (1910), 85–88.

28 MDÖAV (1909), 267.

29 Adolf von Guttenberg, "Naturschutz und Naturschutzgebiete," Zeitschrift des deutschen und österreichischen Alpenvereins (1913), 59; Deutsche Alpenzeitung II Halbband (Oktober 1913–März 1914), 3.

30 Emanuel Witlaczil, "Einiges über Naturschutz in den Alpen," MDÖAV (1913), 273.

31 "Der neue Alpennaturschutzpark im Pinzgau, Salzburg," Deutsche Alpenzeitung 24 (März 1914), 45; J. Draxler, "Der neue Alpennaturschutzpark in den Hohen Tauern," MDÖAV (1913), 292–295.  Draxler's article contained some inaccuracies.  At the time of publication, negotiations over the lease were still ongoing.  See Guttenberg's letter, MDOAV (1913): 312.

32 Rudolf Jugoviz, "Über Natur- und Heimatschutz," MDÖAV (1914), 127.  See also E. Giannoni, "Bergbahnen und Alpiner Naturschutz," MDÖAV (1913), 107; W. Halbfass, "Naturschutz in den Alpenländern," MDÖAV (1914), 220–221.

33 See Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews, 18671938 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

34 For more on Pan-Germanism, see Roger Chickering, We Men Who Feel Most German: a Cultural Study of the Pan-German League, 18861914 (Boston: George Allen and Unwin, 1984); and Andrew G. Whiteside, The Socialism of Fools: Georg Ritter von Schönerer and Austrian Pan-Germanism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).

35 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

36 Books on mountains and mountaineering are legion.  I have mentioned a few in the notes above.  A few other leading sources include: Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver, Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); Mark Carey, In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Donald Edward Davis, Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005); Susan Schrepfer, Nature's Altars: Mountains, Gender, and American Environmentalism (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005); Kären Wigen, "Discovering the Japanese Alps: Meiji Mountaineering and the Quest for Geographical Enlightenment," Journal of Japanese Studies 31.1 (2005), 1–26; David Beesley, Crow's Range: An Environmental History of the Sierra Nevada (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004); Christopher Conte, Highland Sanctuary: Environmental History in Tanzania's Usambara Mountains (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004); John R. McNeill, The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).


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