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Book + Web Launch: Æther 03

On 28 May the publication series Æther celebrated its third volume – Montan-Welten: Alpine history off the beaten track – at Kulturfolger in Zurich. The numerous guests not only enjoyed the beautifully designed Æther books, the stylish tote bags or the buffet of rich cheese from the Bernese Oberland, they also got to hear and see a lot about the Alps.

The authors invited the visitors to a fictitious Alpine journey by means of a small exhibition containing objects from the individual contributions: Wandering across meadows and paths, the alpine flora was admired, farmers were observed working and from a distance the faint ringing of cow bells was heard. Arriving at the peak, the color nuances of the blue sky were studied and the first personal ascent was celebrated with an Alpine Negroni. The echoes of the voices reverberated quietly.

These impressions of the fictitious mountain experience – which was at the same time a walk through the essays collected in the volume – triggered a series of questions: Would hikers today and 250 years ago share the same experiences? Would they see or feel the same? And how did they report their experiences?

Such questions provided the starting point for the research and writing seminar on the history of the Alps in the early modern period, from which the Æther volume emerged. The Alps seem to be a pristine place. The mountain peaks seem monumental and unchangeable. However, there is no place without history; a glance at the imposing representations of the Grindelwald glacier for example reveals the historicity of the Alps in dramatic colors.

Alpine history before the advent of modern mass tourism, as thematized in Æther 03, does not remain in the past. Writing history means exploring what changes over time and what presumably remains unchanged. The contributions in this volume take the unbroken fascination of the Alps as an opportunity to follow the tracks of natural scientists, mountaineers, painters, diarists, cowherds, farmers, priests and physicians and to explore the history of the Alps as arena of economic action, scientific investigation, and natural habitat.

The methods and skills for this type of historical research and writing was taught in two semesters in which the Æther volume emerged. It is the aim of Æther to convey to the students and the interested public that universities do not only teach knowledge content and methodical craftsmanship, but that knowledge also has a form. This ranges from the literary and rhetorical skills of writing history to questions of layout or format. Æther therefore aims to combine hybrid forms of publishing with new didactic approaches of student learning with the ambition of dense yet readable texts.

Æther is a project that depends on participation. If you are interested in publishing a volume with students, please contact us!