You are on page 1of 3


115: MARCH 2018

ISSN: 1751-8261


Science in the Himalaya 1-3

Great Trigonometrical Survey 4-6

Poetry & Cartography 7-10

Ancient Volcanoes 11-13

Northern Exploration 13-14

Interview – Erin Beetson 15

BJHS, Viewpoint, BSHS info. 16

Histories of space and place are increas-

inly hot topics, so this issue features

current research from trailblazers in the
history of geography. Lachlan Fleet-
wood leads the way with an examina-
tion of the Himalaya as sites and sub- ABOVE Section from Heinrich Berghaus’s Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie (1838). Map-
jects of 19th-century science (1), while ping people, plants, animals, and fossils in three dimensions was essential to making the
Keith Lilley takes us out into the field to Himalaya into a unit that could compared with other parts of the vertical globe.
explore the archaeology of the Great Image: courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection,
Trigonometrical Survey of India (4).
Travelling further back in time, Kader
Hegedüs examines the relationship
between John Donne’s poetry and
Place and Space on High:
Renaissance cartography (7), while
Jason König and Dawn Hollis consider Science in the Himalaya
volcanoes in classical georgaphical and
cultural landscapes (11). Lachlan Fleetwood explores the science of mountains.
Finally, Linda Andersson Burnett
investigates Carl Linnaeus’s interest in
northern periphery exploration (13). We Few places have captured European distance exactly resembled men; and the
also have an interview with Manches- romantic, imperial, and scientific imagina- instant my people observed them, they
ter PhD student Erin Beetson (15), and tions more fully than the Himalaya. While said they were the Tartars waiting for
notices of upcoming events (3). exploring near the frontier with Tibet in me; I thought the same, as they had a
This issue has been co-edited with 1821 in pursuit of these ends, East India very suspicious appearance from below,
Hazel Blair, who will take over as View- Company surveyor Alexander Gerard and I could not divest myself of the
point Editor next issue. Contributions found himself becoming increasingly belief (although the guides assured
should be sent to paranoid: me that they were shughars) till I looked
uk by 15 April 2018. through the glass.
Upon the surrounding heights near
Hazel Blair and Alice White, Editors
the Pass are many shughars or piles of Fears assuaged by the deployment of
stones sacred to the gods, and which at a his telescope, Gerard admitted some
2 Viewpoint No. 115

ABOVE “The Snowy Range from Tyne or Marma,” from George Francis White’s Views in India (1838). A European traveller gazes out
at the Himalaya in this typically heroic and romantic image, but the porters in the foreground inadvertently reveal his dependence on
local labour, routes, and expertise. Image: Public Domain

hopes of penetrating further into what In my current research, the high spaces have to tell for the first half of the 19th
was becoming one of the most pressing of the Himalaya and their mountainous century, when they were becoming both
‘blank spaces’ on European maps. These topography, social and cultural geogra- subjects and spaces of scientific practice.
were quickly dashed, however, as he phy, and human and non-human dimen- Gerard’s conflation of shughars and
crossed the altitude sickness-inducing sions are cast in protagonistic roles. In border guards reflects the East India
high pass only to meet a group of Tartars this article, I take the opportunity to Company’s growing insecurity around
– real, this time, rather than imaginary – outline some of the stories the Himalaya the lack of knowledge of the vast and
who had learned he was coming and vertiginous mountains that made up
were waiting to politely but firmly send their northern frontier. This ignorance,
him back to the lowlands. Moments like combined with growing concerns about
this are revealing of the limits of imperial
mastery in the high mountains, while the
shughars, which served as both waymark-
High mountain Russian and Chinese activities on the
other side of the mountains, saw the
Himalaya take on the characteristics of
ers and shrines, simultaneously remind
us that these had long been lived and
environments cartographic ‘blank space,’ a rendering
which was important not just in clearing
inscribed landscapes.
tested the away indigenous presences in prepara-
tion for European aesthetic and imperial

SITES OF SCIENCE appropriation, but also in compelling
Recognition of the situatedness of scientific exploration.
scientific practice and attention to space It was only in the 1810s that it was
and place is now ubiquitous in the history
of science. Building on this, scholars have
between instru- becoming acknowledged – first in India
by lowly military surveyors, later (and not
productively used geographical features
like oceans, islands, and beaches as sites ments, authority without some doubt and even outrage)
by savants in Europe – that the Himalaya

and bodily
and scales for global histories of science, were, in fact, the highest mountains on
and to disrupt older national and area the globe, far higher even than Alexander
studies framings, though mountains have von Humboldt’s Chimborazo.
only recently begun to receive equiva-
lently extensive attention.
performance. Just how much higher took some
grasping. Commenting on a new type of
Viewpoint No. 115 3

thermometer for measuring altitude, one Spanning some 2,400 kilometres in

that had been tested on Mount Snowdon a roughly crescent shaped band across
in Wales before being sent out to India, Asia, the Himalaya are one of the most
oriental scholar James Prinsep was exas- striking geographical features of our
perated to find that as the range of its planet, though this scale would not ESHS Conference 2018
scale ‘only extends to an altitude of 5405 necessarily have been meaningful or
feet, it is evidently quite insufficient for useful to those who who made their lives The 8th European Society for the
the traveller in India, who may ascend to in the mountains. Here, even the idea History of Science (ESHS) Biennial
18,000 feet and still see Snowdons tower- of studying ‘the Himalaya’ as a space of Conference will be held in London
ing above his head.’ scientific practice perhaps reflects ves- from 14-17 September 2018.
tiges of an older romantic, orientalist, and The conference – which is being
ALTITUDE SICKNESS imperial fascination with Asia’s notori- organised in conjunction with the
Accurately measuring altitude had ously ‘mysterious’ and ‘exotic’ mountains British Society for the History of Sci-
not been especially important before – though these framings, too, have ence – will be held at University Col-
the late-18th century, but was becoming their histories. lege London’s Institute of Education.
essential to both imperial cartography Whatever the early tropes casting the The conference theme this year is
and to sciences like biogeography and Himalaya as impenetrable, they were ‘Unity and Disunity’. Registration will
geology. Measuring the Himalaya was – and long had been – highly porous. open on 1 May.
nevertheless a vexed business, not only Extensive networks had operated within More details can be found on
because of inadequate and easily dam- and through the mountains for millennia the website:
aged instruments, but also because in prior to European interest, and imperial Oct-2017-8th-ESHS-Conference-Lon-
high mountain spaces scale is difficult to science and exploration in the Himalaya don-2018.html.
judge and the senses are untrustworthy. advanced by following the routes and
John Anthony Hodgson, one of the first advice of residents, traders, migrants,
surveyor generals of India, bemoaned and pilgrims.
that ‘whether it be from the changes in Meanwhile, the Himalaya had also long Visiting Fellowship: Oxford
the atmosphere on high mountains, or been central to the imaginations of South
the inconvenience of being exposed to Asians more broadly, holding key places The Centre for the History and
severe cold & high winds, I find my obser- in both Buddhist and Hindu cosmology, Philosophy of Physics (HAPP) at St
vations never agree a fourth part so well and playing, for example, important roles Cross College, University of Oxford
as on the plains.’ in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. is able to offer one Visiting Fellow-
While these spaces might ultimately The term ‘Himalaya’ has its etymology in ship a term for scholars coming to
have been less idiosyncratic than survey- Sanskrit, and is often translated as ‘abode Oxford to carry out research on a
ors inevitably insisted they were, high of snow,’ a description that is nevertheless topic in the history and philosophy
mountain environments nevertheless only intermittently apt given that vast of physics.
tested the relationships between instru- swathes of the mountains are formed of Visiting Fellowships carry full
ments, authority and bodily performance. high-altitude deserts. membership of the College with
Alongside problems of scale and sen- As with James Prinsep’s reference to use of all its facilities and Visiting
sory derangement, the highest spaces Snowdon, invoking other mountains was Fellows are required to be based in
were marked by physiological travails. In a standard trope, and travellers could not Oxford for the term in which they
1821, Alexander’s brother James Gilbert ascend the Himalaya without drawing hold the position.
Gerard stood at 15,000 feet and noted on imperial networks to compare them, Details on how to apply can be
that ‘the scene is therefore of unap- especially to the Alps and the Andes. found on the webpage: www.stx.
proachable grandeur,’ a typical recourse Recognition that high mountains were
to the picturesque and the sublime. He commensurate environments meant that fellowships-and-prizes.
went on to describe the many and debili- plants, people, and fossils increasingly
tating symptoms of altitude sickness had to be located on a globe that was
afflicting him, concluding that he had vertical as well as round.
‘never experienced so decided a proof of In imagining the Himalaya as whole,
the existence of an agent inimical to the naturalists also adopted related frame- Exhibition: Ceaseless Motion
principles of animal life.’ And yet, even works of comparison, designating the
as they were gasping for breath, other various vertical zones as tropical, temper- The 17th-century physician and
travellers found themselves marvelling ate, and arctic, and in turn subsumed the anatomist William Harvey spent his
at birds whirling lazily in the rarefied air mountains into a global framework of life researching circulation.
above. European science. Only occasionally was His experiments were revolu-
it acknowledged that this language of tionary: blood was not ‘cooked’ in
LIVED LANDSCAPES latitude was being written over existing the liver, as had previously been
Alexander Gerard noted elsewhere that South Asian cosmologies, indigenous thought, but circulated around the
‘the Koonawurees and Tartars estimate topographies, and other longstanding body from the heart.
the altitudes of the passes, by the dif- conceptions of space. A new exhibition at the Royal Col-
ficulty of breathing they experience in lege of Surgeons in London dissects
ascending them,’ a reminder that if these Harvey’s work, life, and legacy.
were uncertain spaces for early European Lachlan Fleetwood Ceaseless Motion runs until 26 July
explorers then they were, of course, University of Cambridge 2018. See:
coherent places to those who lived there.

You might also like