The Construction of an Alpine Landscape: Building, Representing and Affecting the Eastern Alps, C. 1885-1914

By Anderson, Ben M. | Journal of Cultural Geography, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Construction of an Alpine Landscape: Building, Representing and Affecting the Eastern Alps, C. 1885-1914


Anderson, Ben M., Journal of Cultural Geography


Between 1885 and the First World War, German and Austrian alpinists talked of "opening up" the Alps in Germany and the Austrian Empire with a vast network of huts and paths. This article argues that this effort to develop the Alps arose from a series of relationships between people, objects, representations and affects which linked urban spaces of middle-class conduct to the alpine environment. Alpinists utilised media such as landscape reliefs and panoramas not merely to represent the Alps. but to inculcate a particular affective response amongst Germany's urban middle-class, or Burgertum. Instead of a Romantic ideal of mountains as unknowable symbols of nature's power, these alpinists promoted a modern gaze which would see all, from the safety of a controlled, governable landscape. In doing so, alpinists legitimised their intervention m the Eastern Alps, developing these once unknown landscapes as a burgerlich [bourgeois, or middle-class] cultural resource.

Keywords: Alps; Germany; alpine tourism: modernity; affect: panoramas

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Over roughly the last five years, geographers have explored opportunities for a rapprochement between non-representational theories and semiotics and symbolism (Cresswell 2006; Lorimer 2008, pp. 554-556; Daley 2009; Crouch 2010; Doel 2010). These interpretations have begun to break down an emerging dichotomy, in which studies of landscape in art, literature or tourism concentrated on textual landscapes and "ways of seeing", whilst "earthy" activities--gardening, building, farming, etc.--provided the subject matter for concepts of affect and materiality (Cosgrove 1985; Duncan and Duncan 2003; Lorimer 2005, pp. 85-86). Increasingly, research has demonstrated how processes of representation and affect act together to form systems of power. In their work on video games, Ian Shaw and Barney Warf (2009, p. 10) have shown how affect and representation form "complementary forces always doing work on the player". Alan Latham and Derek McCormack (2009) have discussed the contribution non-representational styles of thinking can make to the use of an image in pedagogical contexts, while Jean-Francois Bissonnette (2011, p. 356) has shown how "representations constitute practices" and spaces in the context of Sarawak and the continuing agency of its colonial past. Such work does more than apply a non-representational insistence that representations are "events in their own right" (Doel 2010, p. 120). By showing how power operates through hybrid systems of meaning, objects, movement and experience, geographers have collapsed worlds of unconscious affect and conscious meaning together, without losing sight of their differing logics.

This paper contributes to this growing body of pragmatic study by arguing that symbolic and affective processes produced a particular type of alpine tourism in the late nineteenth century. There has been renewed interest in mountaineering in recent years, but "extreme" mountaineers tend to dominate our understanding of the role of the Alps in late nineteenth-century society (Gunther 1998; Hansen 2001; Westaway 2009; Klein 2011). The focus here, however, will be on the tens of thousands of German and Austrian people who visited the Eastern Alps (approximately the Alps to the East of the Swiss/Austrian border) primarily for the scenery. These "path-based" alpinists did not limit themselves to excursions in alpine valleys, but generally used a system of alpine huts and trails to gain alpine passes and summits. Aside from explorations of nationalism in German and Austrian alpine organisations, this group has been largely overlooked by the recent literature (see Tschofen 1999; Keller 2006; Dickinson 2010). This is not just surprising in terms of the greater numbers--around 20 times as many (Hecht 1891, p. 158) involved--but because this larger group were mainly responsible for the most radical modern intervention in the high Alps until the ski lift. …

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