Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mountain Geography

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mountain Geography

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Although mountains have been studied for centuries, they are the subject of only a slender body of formal literature. Instead, those who study high places in specific regions construct working definitions and continually recraft bibliographies. Studies of mountains often focus on comparatively limited themes: physical processes, ecology, or sacred spaces, for example. As scholars become interested in environmental degradation and the development of mountains, there is all the more need to develop a mountain geography literature that expands the study of mountains to include the political, economic, cultural, and social dimensions of their environments and peoples. Three areas--cultural geography, political ecology, and conservation theory--are suggested for additional research. Keywords: conservation, cultural geography, mountains, political ecology.

A map showing only the world's mountains and high places resembles a series of island arcs and peaks, surrounded by a sea of lowlands (Wyckoff and Dilsaver 1995) (Figure 1). Many of the arcs trend from north to south: the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the Andes of the Americas; the Urals and the Verkoyansk Range in Siberia; and the Mitumba Mountains in Africa. Others, such as the Himalayas and the Tian Shan in Asia and the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, are east-to-west trending. Although some of the mountain chains are linked, as are those of the Americas and the approximately 6,000-mile-long band that stretches from the European Alps to Southeast Asia--the Alps, Carpathians, Balkans, Zagros, Hindu Kush, Himalayas, and Hengduan Shan--many are isolated by thousands of miles of lowlands--the Transantarctic Mountains, Urals, and Southern Alps of New Zealand.

Scholars have studied the mountain world for better than two centuries, yet no agreed-upon body of mountain literature has emerged. Instead, there is a vast array of scattered publications dealing with high places that are defined by those who study them, who know each other, and who work (and sometimes quarrel) in specific regions such as the Andes (Troll 1968; Brush 1977; Stadel 1991), the Himalayas (Ives and Messerli 1989; Bishop 1990; Brower 1991; Stevens 1993), or the Alps (Netting 1974; Messerli 1989; Batzing, Perlik, and Deklevan 1996). And although a flurry of books, papers, articles, and conferences have addressed mountain environments, studies trend in the same direction: toward physical processes, ecological studies (with the two melding into geoecology), evaluation of natural hazards, the modeling of mountain ecosystems and processes, and hazards research. Even though other aspects of mountain environments have recently been treated, the literature remains less than well defined or rigorous (Denn iston 1995).

A body of literature named and known as mountain geography could more usefully encompass all aspects of mountain regions and peoples. This would be not just in reaction to a perceived crisis in mountains (Mountain Agenda--UNCED 1992; Stone 1992; Denniston 1995). Instead, mountain geography as an inclusive field would rightly draw on the rich body of geographical and other technical literature, including cultural geography, political geography (and its cognate field political ecology), economic geography, physical geography, and human geography. Though still in far from its final likely form, the study of mountains has evolved. The progression has so far ignored unique aspects of mountain geography, which has in its turn resulted in methodological biases that are now sadly inherent in mountain literature. A failure of understanding has spawned misinterpretation of factors involved in the transformation and degradation of mountain environments. Three future research directions--cultural geography, political ec ology, and conservation theory--are fundamentally needed to create a mountain geography literature.


Mountains have long been revered, held in awe, and viewed as symbols of strength, freedom, and eternity. …

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