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The Alps: An Environmental History



The Alps: An Environmental History

Jon Mathieu, Rose Hadshar (Translator)

ISBN: 978-1-509-52774-8 February 2019 Polity 184 Pages

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Stretching 1,200 kilometres across six countries, the colossal mountains of the Alps dominate Europe, geographically and historically. Enlightenment thinkers felt the sublime and magisterial peaks were the very embodiment of nature, Romantic poets looked to them for divine inspiration, and Victorian explorers tested their ingenuity and courage against them. Located at the crossroads between powerful states, the Alps have played a crucial role in the formation of European history, a place of intense cultural fusion as well as fierce conflict between warring nations. A diverse range of flora and fauna have made themselves at home in this harsh environment, which today welcomes over 100 million tourists a year.

Leading Alpine scholar Jon Mathieu tells the story of the people who have lived in and been inspired by these mountains and valleys, from the ancient peasants of the Neolithic to the cyclists of the Tour de France. Far from being a remote and backward corner of Europe, the Alps are shown by Mathieu to have been a crucible of new ideas and technologies at the heart of the European story.

  • Preface
  • Writing a History of the Alps
  • Personal Note and Acknowledgements
  • List of Maps and Figures
  • Timeline
  • 1. The Alps in European History
  • 2. Modern Scholars on the Alps
  • 3. In the Beginning was Hannibal
  • 4. Coping with Life – High and Low
  • 5. Paths to the Nation State
  • 6. Religious Culture, Early Science
  • 7. The Perception of the Alps
  • 8. Which Modernity?
  • 9. Europeanisation and Environmentalism
  • 10. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

‘In the realm of Alpine history, Jon Mathieu is the leading voice – he knows the mountains as Braudel knew the sea. This compact but comprehensive overview of one of the world’s most famous mountain regions stands out for its sophistication, clarity and wry humour.’
Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

‘If I could recommend only one book about the Alps, it would be this one! Jon Mathieu’s book crosses national borders and historic periods with the greatest of ease. It introduces us to cultural and ecological challenges. And – most importantly – it is a great and enjoyable read. A book full of surprises and insights and wonderful illustrations.’
Christof Mauch, Director, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich

‘An engaging, rigorous overview of Alpine history from earliest times to the present. This book represents in some ways the culmination of a life’s work by Mathieu, and offers the most up-to-date account of Alpine history possible, while being at the same time accessible and enjoyable to read.’
Tait Keller, Rhodes College

‘Mathieu is a leading authority on the history and culture of the Alps, and it shows.’
Stewart A. Weaver, University of Rochester

“Mathieu addresses the deep connection between humans and nature in the cultural landscape of the European Alps, ranging from the Mediterranean coast to Slovenia… The Alps is an indispensable book in any Alpine connoisseur’s collection.”
Prof. Jörg Balsiger, University of Geneva

“Mathieu’s episodic but informative narrative tacks back and forth, from the arrival of hunter-gatherers millennia ago through milestones such as the first recorded ascent of Mont Blanc, in 1786, and wolves’ resurgence in the twentieth century.”