48.1 F
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Summiting Special Collections

By Kamiah Koch

In the highest room of the tallest tower, also known as the sixth floor of Wilson Library, the Special Collections hosts its newest exhibit, “To the Mountaintop: A Social History of Mountaineering.”

The exhibit features historical materials provoking viewers to think about the influence that gender, race and class has had on mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest.

Mountaineering display in Special Collections
Mountaineering display in Special Collections. // Photo by Jaden Moon

“There are a lot of people that live here and go to Western to climb and mountaineer,” said Garrett Shively, a fifth year environmental science major working at the Outdoor Center. “It is a huge part of living in the Cascades.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public from Sept. 26 through March 22. Michael Taylor, Special Collections librarian, said it is one of their longer exhibits, lasting through spring quarter.

To the Mountaintop features “rare books, historical photographs and manuscript materials from Western Libraries’ division of Heritage Resources,” according to the Western Libraries webpage. The entire collection was brought together through a collaboration with Special Collections,  which is providing the written works, and the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, which is providing the images, Taylor said.

The collection uses a “historical trifecta” framework, according to Taylor, focusing on the achievements and social issues mountaineering has in correlation with race, gender and class. Taylor said choosing this angle for the exhibit makes the collection more meaningful in an educational setting.

“We wanted to think about how the collection supports education rather than entertainment,” Taylor said.

At the entrance of the Special Collections gallery are several large images of female mountaineers summiting mountains in the region. One of the most recognizable photos is of a woman summiting Mount Baker in 1941, which can also be seen on posters for the exhibition around campus.

As a guide with the Outdoor Center leading Mount Baker summits, Western junior Vivien McNett said the Outdoor Center is trying to break down the gender barriers that still exist with mountaineering.

“Mountaineering has been a very traditional boys club sport, and pretty white-male-dominated,” McNett said. “A lot of outdoor rec is [male-dominated] but I feel like mountaineering and climbing weighs heavily on that.”

The Outdoor Center challenges that gender gap by providing an inclusive women-identifying summit of Mount Baker, McNett said.

Taylor said the display in the center of the exhibit holds several books open to pages which highlight race in association with mountaineering, specifically representing Native American and African-American mountaineering achievements.

“Mountaineering is considered more of a ‘white’ hobby but there are African-American mountaineers,” Taylor said. “Charles Crenchaw was the first black man to summit Mount Denali in 1964, which is appropriate as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used mountain symbolism in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech a year earlier. “

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments mountaineering has made with inclusivity in regards to race and gender, but Taylor said it’s important not to forget about the problematic history of mountaineering.

Within the same center display, there are works that suggest controversial ethics seen with race and mountaineering showcased with an exposé of Sherpa porters. Written works expose the issues involved with Sherpa porters, workers whose job is to carry predominantly white mountaineers’ gear up the mountains, as having one of the highest workplace mortality rates in the world.

Written works provided by Special Collections.
Written works provided by Special Collections. // Photo by Jaden Moon

In regards to social status, Taylor said he chose books that contain information about the “conservation refugees,” people from non-majority socioeconomic groups who were forced to relocate because of governments wanting to convert lands into public parks and developments.

Taylor hopes this section of the collection will encourage viewers to question if the recreational needs of people living in cities takes priority over indigenous rights and vulnerable residents of undeveloped lands.

“Instead of just thinking ‘oh, that’s a mountain,’ know there is a lot of history and conflict behind it,” Taylor said.

In connection to the Special Collections exhibit, the Heritage Resources Distinguished Speakers Series will be hosting the author of Altitude Journals: A Seven-Year Journey from the Lowest Point in My Life to the Highest Point on Earth, David Mauro on Nov. 6. Time and location to be announced.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Must Read

Behind the systems: WWU Newman Center forced resignation of student employee after learning of same-sex partner

Student says she was told to break up with her girlfriend or quit her job

Resident advisers hold open forum with university officials to discuss concerns

Written by: Bram Briskorn and Questen Inghram Over 300 people packed into Arntzen Hall, room 100 as if it were...

Sports: Pros and cons of Seahawks’ NFL draft pick Malik McDowell

Why did the Seahawks go after a defensive tackle with their first selection in the 2017 NFL draft? Coming off...

Latest News

No Stage? No Problem!

Starting at the top and from left to right, Walden Marcus, Madeleine Cooper, Gabi Gilbride and...

COVID-19 restrictions cripple Bellingham travel industry

The Bellingham Cruise Terminal on Sunday, May 17. The Alaska Ferry was form of transportation that was put on hold...

Bellingham Public Schools navigates remote learning challenges

Devices at Bellingham Public Schools being prepped for delivery to students to aid in remote learning. // Photo courtesy Bellingham Public...

Looking forward to live music post-COVID-19

Analog Brass performing at their first show in 2018. // Photo courtesy of Maxwell Lemke By Riley Currie

Western becomes first university in U.S. to offer palliative care minor

Western’s main campus is adding a new palliative care minor starting fall quarter. // Photo by Sophia Galvez

More Articles Like This