Mount Everest: The Highest Highs and The Lowest Lows

Brandeis University

Daniel Breen is Senior Lecturer in Legal Studies at Brandeis University, and a recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award for Excellence in Teaching. While his primary academic interests lay in the law and politics of the Early Republic, he also holds a Ph.D. in American History and enjoys lecturing on a wide variety of subjects. Professor Breen is currently working on an article about the secession movement in New England during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

Overview

By 1856, geographers had confirmed that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, and ever since then, no peak has loomed larger in the human imagination. Unfortunately, few mountains have been deadlier for climbers, over 300 of whom are known to have died seeking its summit.  In this presentation, Professor Daniel Breen will explore some of the triumphs and the tragedies of the human encounters with Everest: from the Victorian surveyors who first identified it as the “roof of the world,” to the men who–a century later–made the first successful ascent.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of how India was Mapped and Everest was Named, by John Keay

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, by Wade Davis

High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest, by Edmund Hillary

 

Discussion Questions:

1) When asked why it was so important for him to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory was said to have replied, “because it is there.” But is that a good reason for attempting the ascent of such a perilous mountain?  Has it ever been rational to undertake this challenge, just for the sake of being able to say that you have met and overcome it?

2) Before the pandemic, about 800 people a year were attempting to climb Mount Everest, usually paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of doing so.  Should this kind of tourism be encouraged, or should the number of climbers be dramatically limited, to preserve Everest in something close to its natural state?

3) What is it in general that is so compelling about mountain climbing?  If you have ever done any mountain climbing, what is it about that you found appealing, despite the challenges and expense?

 

 

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