Observing in the Extreme: British Scientific Research in the High Alps, c.1815 -1880

  • Robert Smail

    Student thesis: Phd


    This thesis examines scientific research undertaken by British travellers in the higher regions of the Alps from c.1815 to c.1880. Within this spatial backdrop I study how bodily habits and physical practices were used in the formation of a distinct observational style, how this style was transferred to other individuals and other social groups, and how they could be called upon to legitimate the knowledge produced.Mountain regions provide an ideal space to examine the role of physical practices in the production of scientific knowledge. Difficult geography and unpredictable weather make the Alps a very hostile environment. The period between 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic wars) and 1880 (when 'guideless' climbing was introduced) was a period of considerable change for Alpine research and mountain travel. It was during this period that scientific research was shifted from the lower Alpine valleys towards the higher regions of permanent snow and ice. But before the higher regions could be observed, individuals were first required to learn bodily habits and physical practices.To further these aims this study will the broadly based around the Alpine Club. Formed in 1857, it was the premier authority on high mountain travel. Though knowledge production formed a strong part of its outlook, the Club also contained members intent on pursuing mountain travel for pleasure. As a result the Club placed scientific activities alongside the unique physical skills and the technical experiences of its membership. Members interested in producing scientific research in the higher Alps used the Club to extend participation in observation gathering. To do so they used the Club's rules and regulations, meetings and committee structure as well as its publications to define and articulate how this knowledge should be collected.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorIan Burney (Supervisor)


    • Alps, mountain research, physical practice, alpine club, extreme

    Cite this