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Memoria e Ricerca

The perception of the Alps: problems of historical periodisation

di Jon Mathieu
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 19 (2005), p. 13

In the scientific literature devoted to the history of the perception of the Alps, we find different periodisation schemes that partially contradict one another. Studies of the history of literature and of philosophy, and in related disciplines, often use a periodisation that sees the 18th century as the turning point from “fog-laden and sombre” mountains to mountains that are “luminous and magnificent”. Authors who study mountaineering or geography employ another periodisation: they note the first discovery of the Alps in the 16th century, the return to oblivion in the 17th century and, at the time of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism, a definitive rediscovery of the mountains. Careful attention to sources and historical context shows that the two periodisations are neither completely false nor completely correct. Rather than a history sharply divided into black and white, it would be preferable to think in terms of an evolution in shades of grey.