picture of people walking up a mountain with a snowy peak in the background
The Mountaineering Culture Studies Group is made possible through the Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop programme at the Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan. It is also generously supported as a Special Interest Group by the university's Department of English.

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Past Events

Fall 2017

24 October 2017 | 2330 Mason Hall | 5:30 p.m.
Film screening, Sherpa, dir. Jennifer Peedom (2015)

A brawl on Everest? Director Jennifer Peedom set out to uncover tension in the 2014 Everest climbing season from the Sherpas’ point of view and instead captured a tragedy when an avalanche struck. Sherpa tells the story of how the Sherpas united after the tragedy in the face of fierce opposition, to try to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma. Trailer (With class meeting of English 124)


8 November 2017 | 3154 Angell Hall | 5 p.m.
Alpinism and the Art of Freedom | Bernadette McDonald

In her recent book Art of Freedom, mountain author Bernadette McDonald chronicles one of the greatest alpinists of all time, Voytek Kurtyka. This Polish climber’s visionary approach has resulted in many renowned ascents, including what has been dubbed the “climb of the century”, an unrepeated alpine-style ascent of the Shining Wall on the West Face of Gasherbrum IV. Of greater interest than simply the stunning execution of climbs of unsurpassed difficulty, however, has always been Kurtyka’s approach to alpinism. While Kurtyka embraced the physical and athletic side of climbing, he was equally fascinated with the cerebral experience: the constant decision making, problem solving, and strategizing that it demanded. Even more important to Kurtyka was the aesthetic aspect of alpinism, which, on some ascents, approached a spiritual level. In Kurtyka’s words: “Beauty is the door to another world. Alpinism is the art of freedom. It offers a creative relationship with the mountain.” In this lecture, McDonald will discuss her role in bringing this multidimensional individual to the page. Her job remained that of communicating the full scope of the person under discussion, as well as challenging the reader to be affected in some way by the complexity of a very conflicted, yet visionary alpinist. McDonald will also show how although not a traditional approach to mountaineering literature, Art of Freedom offers a window into the world of alpinism, as practised by the most accomplished and thoughtful of its artists.

Bernadette McDonald is the author of several books on mountaineering and mountain culture, including her most recent Art of Freedom (Rocky Mountain Books, 2017), which has been short-listed for two prestigious awards and is slated for publication in ten languages. A previous title, Freedom Climbers, the story of Poland’s golden age of Himalayan climbing, has been awarded six literary prizes, including the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Prize. She was awarded Italy’s ITAS Prize for mountain writing and is a three-time winner of India’s Kekoo Naoroji Award for Mountain Literature. In 2011, the American Alpine Club awarded her their highest honour for excellence in mountain literature. She was the founding Vice President of Mountain Culture at The Banff Centre and director of the Banff Mountain Festivals for 20 years. She has received the Alberta Order of Excellence, the Summit of Excellence Award from The Banff Centre, the King Albert Award for international leadership in the field of mountain culture and environment, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. She is also an honorary member of both the Polish Mountaineering Association and India’s Himalayan Club. She lectures and consults for universities, museums, festivals and cultural institutions around the world, and currently serves on the international advisory committee for National Geographic’s Expedition Council. Her discretionary time is spent in the mountains: climbing, ski touring and hiking.


29 November 2017 | 3154 Angell Hall | 5 p.m.
The 20th Century American Mountaineering Canon: Parsing the Historical, Literary, and Personal | David Stevenson

“And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good—
  Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

In 2002 as part of a celebration of the American Alpine Club’s centennial I was tasked with compiling a list of the “best” American mountaineering books written in that century. In my introduction I equivocate much about “best,” substituting, “influential,” “historical,” “representative.” In the end, all that can be said with any certainty is that the list is chronological. In Jill Neate’s preface to Mountaineering Literature she observes, “A practicable definition of ‘mountaineering book’ continues to eludes me.” In this talk and conversation I will revisit that list, its methodology (such as it was), speculate about what books written since then would be likely candidates and discuss how different these choices might be for me if the list were “personal” rather than “public.”

David Stevenson has been the book review editor of the American Alpine Journal since 1995. His fiction collection, Letters from Chamonix, won the Banff Mountain Book Award for Fiction and Poetry in 2014. His collected mountaineering essays, Warnings Against Myself: Meditations on a Life in Climbing was published in 2016 by the University of Washington Press. He received the H. Adams Carter Literary Award from the American Alpine Club in 2017. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Utah and works as a professor of English at the University of Alaska Anchorage where he directs the MFA program in creative writing. His home range is the Chugach.


Please address any questions to the MCSG Graduate Coordinator Amrita Dhar at amritad at umich dot edu.

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  Last updated October 9, 2017.