Mountain research spotlight: Jonathan Pitches

This post is part of our ‘mountain research spotlights’ series, sharing the work and insights of colleagues working on mountains across the humanities (and beyond). 

Name and Institution: Jonathan Pitches, University of Leeds.

Research summary: I have research interests in many aspects of mountain culture,  in environmental theatre and performance and in blended learning. In a parallel life I co-edit the Journal of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, reflecting my other passion – for performer training histories and practices.  I am deeply interested in the relationship between theatre, performance and mountains and finished a 24 month AHRC-funded fellowship to write about this in November 2018 (you can read more about it on the project website). My formal partner on this project was Kendal Mountain Festival. A monograph associated with this project – Performing Mountains – was published in 2020.

Do you define yourself as working within the mountain humanities / mountain studies?

I define myself as working with mountain cultures, which I would say is a subset of the mountain humanities. I have critiqued mountain studies for claiming to be more arts-inclined than it is in practice. I would like to see more genuine interdisciplinary activity between the main constituents of the mountain studies (climatologist, glaciologists, geologists et cetera) with arts practitioners and cultural historians. Interdisciplinary exchange is going to be vital, indeed the only answer, to the enormous, existential environmental challenges we are facing.

Can you share a bit more about the specific pieces of work you’ve done in this area?

You can take a look at the final cut of the ‘Black Rock’ performance here. This was one of the key outputs from the Performing Mountains project. It was artistically led by Dr David Shearing, who was a postdoctoral researcher on the project, and I contributed as a dramaturg.  Responding to a prompt from the Kendal Mountain Festival, this was a piece which drew deep inspiration from the rock, climbing feats of Johnny Dawes in the mid-1980s in Snowdonia, and in particular celebrated in performance the 30 year anniversary of the route he named Indian face (E9 6C).

I’ve also written about mountains and performance practice in the introduction to ‘On Mountains’, a special issue of the journal Performance Research, which is available to all online. In it, I argue for performance and mountains arts research to be more fully integrated into Mountain Studies in general. Another Open Access piece that blog readers might like to look at is my article ‘High Culture: Presentations of the self in mountain environments’, which takes a look at the ways that ‘Wainwrighters’ (hillwalkers who set out to climb the 214 Lakeland peaks described in Alfred Wainwright’s illustrated guides) record and depict their experiences, in sometimes highly elaborate ways.

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