Fri 3 Jun 2022

Post show discussion with Dr Jonathan Westway & Carmen Nasr

Join us for a post-show discussion on Friday 8 July with writer of The Climbers, Carmen Nasr and leading expert Dr Jonathan Westway as they talk about 'Other Everests' - a critical reassessment of the legacy of Everest and it's meaning to us today.

Carmen Nasr has already shared some unique insight into her process for writing The Climbers. Her full Q&A is here. We’d like to invite you to join Carmen and Dr Westway after the performance of The Climbers on Friday 8th July, as they discuss some of the themes that Carmen felt compelled to include, one of these is here…

Have you read a lot of other mountain literature? What did you want to add and what’s different about this piece?

I read a handful of books as part of my research, both colonial-era accounts like Annapurna, and the more modern Everest horror story kind, like Into Thin Air. The literature is unsurprisingly dominated by the white western male perspective, and the stories and voices that are missing from the genre are multiple, and many of those voices are not really for me to fill. I often joke that this play is an ‘anti-climbing’ play, which is kind of tongue in cheek, but I guess it’s a critique of the ‘hero’ narrative of the western climber. I can’t help but feel a sense of deep outrage that as a society we glorify and almost worship those who risk their lives in pursuit of the summit of Everest, but vilify and demonise those who risk their lives by crossing the channel in a boat, simply in search of safety and security. That’s the absurdity of being alive today. So I guess what’s different about this piece is that it asks – why the hell are you on Everest?

Jonathan Westaway is a Senior Research Fellow and specializes in the history of mountaineering, mountain environments and imperial cultures of exploration. His research is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from cultural geography and anthropology and involves working in collaboration with archivists, curators, artists, festivals and communities.

Dr Westway’s Project Summary

Other Everests is a new interdisciplinary research network that takes as its starting point the centenary of the post-war British Everest campaigns of 1921-1924. It will bring together international scholars, archivists, curators, learned and professional societies and the UK mountaineering community to critically reassess the legacy of the Everest expeditions and to re-evaluate the symbolic, political and cultural status of Everest in the contemporary world.

Everest became the object of British mountaineering attention after the First World War for a number of reasons. Himalayan mountaineering presented the opportunity to reconstruct a form of heroic masculinity. To ‘conquer’ Everest would demonstrate British racial vigour and imperial fitness to rule in India. The mass media were avid for stories of heroism and adventure. The mythopoeic disappearance of Mallory and Irvine in 1924 reinforced dominant narratives of ill-fated adventure and the nobility of sacrifice. Enduring archetypes were created that continue to shape the popular understanding of Everest to the present day.

The Other Everests network will bring post-colonial perspectives to bear on Everest mountaineering narratives, challenging us to broaden and deepen our understanding of Everest’s mountaineering history, its symbolic legacy and contemporary meanings, shifting the focus away from colonial-era narratives, providing access to the hidden histories of Everest. It brings historical perspectives to bear on the multiple contemporary ethical, social and political challenges thrown up by Everest, bringing together historians, geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and literature scholars to examine subjects as diverse as: the legacy of British imperialism, the hidden histories of exploration, labour hierarchies and welfare; ‘over-tourism’ and the environmental and social impacts of adventure tourism, the disposal of human remains on the mountain, and the globalisation of mountaineering.

Other Everests will develop a network of academics and the custodians of significant archival collections relating to Everest, such as our project partner, the Royal Geographical Society, enabling contemporary scholarship to contribute to the discussion around appropriate forms of commemoration of the post-war Everest expeditions. The network will reflect on the commemorative activities that have already taken place in 2021 for the centenary of the much smaller Everest Reconnaissance Expedition of 1921, as well as taking part in the debates around the much more significant forthcoming centenaries of the British attempts to climb Everest that will be in 2022 and 2024. The network will ask fundamental questions about commemoration, memory and meaning and the role of contemporary archives in understanding Everest today: questions such as ‘Whose history are we commemorating?’; ‘How do we incorporate Nepalese and Tibetan perspectives in our interpretation of mountaineering on Everest?’; ‘What are the sources for the history of indigenous high-altitude labour?’; ‘How does history continue to shape contemporary globalised mountaineering cultures on Everest?’; ‘How can digitisation facilitate co-production and digital repatriation?’; ‘What are the challenges of engaging different communities and publics as co-producers of knowledge, enabling them to be part of the process of reinterpreting the legacy of mountaineering on Everest?’.

Other Everests will take a once-in-a-100-year opportunity to critically reassess the legacy of Everest and its meaning in contemporary culture and society. It will make its findings widely accessible in an Open-Access collection of critical essays that address key themes highlighted by the network and it will work with our project partners at the Kendal Mountain Festival to develop public lectures and events that translate contemporary scholarship into publicly accessible formats.

AHRC Networking Grant AH/W004917/1- Other Everests: Commemoration, Memory and Meaning and the British Everest Expedition Centenaries, 2021-2024.

To book your tickets to The Climbers, HERE. This post-show discussion is included in your ticket price.

We also have Rebecca Stephens MBE joining us for a pre-show Q&A with Matt Le Voi from Lakeland Mountain Guides on Saturday 2 July. Tickets are £10 or free if you have booked The Climbers on any night. Details here.

IMAGE credit: Stuart Holmes