Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages (CRLV)

Voyage en Suisse, en Lombardie et en Piémont, 1834 (CRLV)

I have worked on Arctic exploration for over a decade and have been feeling lately that it’s time for a change. I like exploration too much to leave it as a field of study (as is probably obvious from this blog), so I have been digging into the literature on another love of mine, mountains, specifically the role of mountains in the work of nineteenth-century scientists.

I don’t have any method for starting new research projects. I have a “if time, pursue this” file, but most of these ideas feel stale by the time I get back to them. So I usually set off into the literature much the way less-than-smart dogs take to being off the leash: running around sniffing randomly until they find something good, chasing it till it runs out, then running some more until they something else. I pursue this approach until I find food. Methodological rigor comes later, usually about the time I need to apply for a grant.

In any event, I was in my dog phase a few months ago, when I started to realize something about the secondary literature on mountains. There are some divisions I expected to find according to discipline (lots of material in art history, for example, not that much in the history of science). But there were also some divisions I didn’t expect, namely differences according to nationality. In particular, it seemed to me that French scholarship on the intellectual history of mountains was very well developed whereas Anglo-American literature was still getting off the ground.

How much do we miss by not wading into the literature of other languages, other countries? It depends upon the research question obviously. But in my case, it’s something I need to do. I can read French, with effort, fingers gripped to the side of my desk. This too must change. I have been on the lookout in the last few weeks for serious exploration blogs or sites outside of the U.S and the U.K.

One of the best that I’ve found is the Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages (CRLV). This site has been around for a while, offers an impressive, searchable bibliography of primary literature on exploration (by author and location), a list of CRLV publications, schedule of conferences, and series of conference podcasts, some of which have abstracts and transcripts. Impressive.

I’ve been happy to note more traffic here from other countries, particularly Scandinavia. If you think I should be aware of exploration-related sites, please drop me a line.

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1 Comment»

  Will Thomas wrote @

re: your comment over at EWP, the mountain angle in glaciology is something that you can see when looking through the literature. I haven’t really dealt with it, since the history of glaciology is itself background to the Antarctic ice project (so this would be background to background); but your post here made a lot of sense to me, because it’s clearly visible at the margins of the project. I have no doubt that if I were to follow that back I’d end up in the history of mountain exploration, and I can’t imagine there’s much on it.


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