Dr. Jonathan Westaway

Dr. Jonathan Westaway

Senior Research Fellow in History

School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies

Greenbank Building, GR314

+44 (0) 1772 89 4169


Subject Areas: History, Cultural History, Environmental History, Imperial History, History of Science

Jonathan Westaway is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies and specializes in the history of mountaineering, mountain environments and imperial cultures of exploration.

Jonathan is research active within the area of history.

Jonathan is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Royal Historical Society.

Social Media

Full Profile

Jonathan Westaway’s research focusses on the histories of mountaineering, mountain environments and exploration and is strongly interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from cultural geography and anthropology and involves working in collaboration with archivists, curators, artists, festivals and communities.

His recent research examines British imperial leisure cultures, knowledge practices and mountain environments in India and Central Asia c.1850-1947 and their representation in travel writing, photography and film.

Jonathan’s 2014 paper, ‘That Undisclosed World: Eric Shipton’s Mountains of Tartary (1950)’ explored the problematic nature of travel writing authored by servants of the British Imperial security state, calling into question the reliability of these texts as sources.  This research was presented as a public lecture at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2014 and remains the most downloaded article in the journal Studies in Travel Writing.  Further research examining the mountaineer Eric Shipton’s relations with the Government of India reached a global mountaineering audience in 2017 via the publication of the article ‘Eric Shipton’s Secret History’ in The Alpine Journal. 

Jonathan is co-curating an exhibition of recently discovered photographs from the German Kanchenjunga Expedition of 1929, in conjunction with the renowned landscape artist Julian Cooper.  The exhibition, Kanchenjunga 1929, will be held at the Heaton Cooper Gallery in Grasmere in the Lake District, opening in November 2018.  The photographs on display provide an insight into post-war German mountaineering in the Himalaya and exhibit a strong ethnographic focus, opening a unique window into the hidden histories of indigenous expeditionary labour.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Jonathan has been researching and interpreting amateur and expeditionary film held in the RGS-IBG collections, which have recently been digitized by the British Film Institute.   He delivered a public lecture at the Royal Geographical Society in London in November 2017 entitled Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine: Filming in Central Asia, part of the RGS-IBG ‘Be inspired’ lecture series.

Jonathan is currently establishing a research network entitled Other Everests? Commemoration, Memory and Meaning and the Everest Expedition Centenaries, 2019-2024.  This network will work with the mountaineering community and significant mountaineering archives and collections, to reinterpret and contextualize the post-War Everest expeditions, bringing to bear recent scholarship in this area, in preparation for the Everest expedition centenaries in 2021, 2022, and 2024.

Colonial science and the imperial encounter with alterity informs Jonathan’s other recent research in the early-modern period, researching Inuit encounter stories from Orkney in the 1690s and early 1700s.  These stories emerged as part of an attempt to compile a Scottish national geography undertaken by Fellows of the Royal Society.  Part of a wider research interest in circumpolar histories and ‘the idea of north’, this research will be published in 2018 as ‘The Inuit Discovery of Europe?  The Orkney Finnfolk, Preternatural Objects and the Abducted Colonial Body’.


Mountain of Destiny: Kanchenjunga 1929
Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, Cumbria, 15 November-31 December 2019

Exhibition of photographs from the 1929 German Kanchenjunga Expedition presented to E. O. Shebbeare (private collection) and contemporary paintings of Kanchenjunga by the landscape artist Julian Cooper.

Westaway’s innovative curatorial approaches have helped unlock the hidden histories of high-altitude expeditionary labour, redirecting the historiographic focus of mountaineering history towards the contribution of indigenous agency and selfhood.  The exhibition provides audiences with new ways of looking at Himalayan mountaineering history, presenting newly discovered photograph albums to the mountaineering community and broader publics as part of the Kendal Mountain Festival 2018.  The exhibition forms part of Westaway’s ongoing examination of imperial governmentality and knowledge-gathering practices in the trans-border regions of British India, particularly the ways in which the political control of space by the imperial security state (Hevia, 2012) implicated all forms of expeditionary representation (travel writing, cartography, photography and film) in colonial surveillance and knowledge networks.  Archival photographs are juxtaposed with contemporary paintings of Kanchenjunga by Britain’s foremost painter of mountain landscapes, Julian Cooper.

The exhibition’s thematic focus is on a unique ethnographic moment captured in the photographs. The 1929 expedition was the first German post-war expedition to the Himalayas, with explicitly nationalistic goals.  The photographs on display record the first encounter between the racially-inflected nationalism of the German mountaineers with the multi-ethnic world of Sikkim, registering both the shock of alterity and enchantment with mountain peoples.  Uniquely for the period, the photographs of indigenous high-altitude labourers were annotated with the names of the Sherpas by the British transport officer on the expedition (E. O. Shebbeare), enabling us to begin to research the hidden histories of indigenous expeditionary labour (Driver, 2009).  A biographical article on Shebbeare linked to the exhibition was published in The Alpine Journal 2018.

Video Seminar

‘Rituals of Extinction: Manhunting Games in the British Outdoor Movement, 1890-1914’, Part of the Rethinking the Rural seminar hosted by InCertainPlaces, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK, 2015.

Games involving human quarry played out in the upland landscapes of northern England emerged within the British outdoor movement at a time of intense Imperial anxiety.  Both advocates and critics of Empire at the time were concerned to establish the rationale for the legitimacy of empire, deploying racial arguments.  But racial fitness was called into question by fears that industrial progress, urban living and modernity led to moral and racial degeneration.  Concerns over imperial overstretch and racial fitness were intensified by the Boer War.  Subject people’s ability to defeat the imperial power led to the reassessment of military tactics and new notions of how to move, observe and be concealed within a landscape.  The Scouting movement propagated a new respect for indigenous knowledge and bodily practices, contributing to new notions of how to “read” and experience landscape.  The primitive racial vigour of subject peoples suggested a need to reconnect with nature and the primitive mind. These games enabled participants to address the question “What is it like to be a subject people?  To be hunted, not the hunter?”  They offered repertoires of enactive practice that cultivated an embodied understanding of the imperial dilemma, whilst reformulating notions of imperial masculinity.  As inversion rituals these games opened up a space for imaginative sympathy for subaltern peoples.   In the wider cultural realm, fantasies of imperial inversion such as H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds also explored the logic of extinction of colonized peoples.  However, these games move beyond representation and are expressive of a modernity where landscape becomes indispensable to our capacity to know, where new modalities of thinking in movement are explored.   These new ways of being in nature were in part a response to the totalizing nature of imperialism and are analogous with contemporary dilemmas associated with the emergence of the anthropocene, not least the problem of asymmetry and scale that Bruno Latour has identified in comprehending geocide.  Addressing this problem, Latour suggests we need to become attentive to the techniques through which scale is obtained, while lamenting the lack of rituals that will save us from despair.  These manhunting games are examined in an attempt to address a contemporary problematic:  do we need to perform rituals of our own extinction to provide us with ‘the scaling instrument that generates the  global locally’?


Ph.D History, Lancaster University, 1996.
M.A. (Distinction) Modern Social History, Lancaster University, 1991

The Conversation

Jonathan has published several articles on The Conversation, to read them please follow the links below:


J. Westaway, ‘Thinking Like a Mountain: The Life and Career of E. O. Shebbeare’, The Alpine Journal 2018, 122, pp.205-218.

J. Westaway, ‘Eric Shipton's Secret History’, The Alpine Journal, 2017, Vol. 121, pp. 215-229.

J. Westaway, ‘That Undisclosed World: Eric Shipton’s Mountains of Tartary (1950)’, Studies in Travel Writing special issue on Xinjiang, 2014, Vol. 18 (4), 2014, 357-373. DOI:10.1080/13645145.2014.964457

Jonathan Westaway, ‘Mountains of Memory, Landscapes of Loss: Scafell Pike and Great Gable as War Memorials, 1919-1924Landscapes, November 2013 Vol.14 (2).

Jonathan Westaway, ‘“Men who can last”: Mountaineering endurance, the Lake District Fell Records and the campaign for Everest, 1919-1924’, Sport in History, special issue on Gender and British Climbing Histories, 2013, Vol.33 (3) pp.303-332. Doi: 10.1080/17460263.2013.826438

Jonathan Westaway, ‘The German Community in Manchester, Middle-Class Culture and the Development of Mountaineering in Britain, c. 1850-1914’. English Historical Review, 2009, CXXIV (508), pp.571-604. doi:10.1093/ehr/cep144

More publications


  • Other Everests? Commemoration, Memory and Meaning and the Everest Expedition Centenaries, 2019-2024, research network.
  • Mountain of Destiny: Kanchenjunga 1929, an exhibition of expeditionary photography and landscape art co-curated with landscape artist Julian Cooper, 15 November-31 December 2018, Heaton Cooper Gallery, Grasmere, Lake District, UK.
  • A Central Asian Arcady: The Photographs and Films of Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine, in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers and the British Film Institute.


Kendal Mountain Festival

Jonathan is a regular presenter at Kendal Mountain Festival, having done so in 2014 and also in 2018 where he has been chosen to deliver three events that draw extensively on his historical research: an exhibition with historical photographs and paintings, a screening of films from The Royal Geographical Society’s film archive and a National Trust (NT) event with Sir Chris Bonington.  For more information on this exhibition read the full article here

Jonathan presenting at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2014
Image by kind permission of Henry Iddon


J. Westaway (2019), ‘Bodies of Ice: Mount Everest as a Mortuary Landscape’, departmental seminar, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, 24 May 2019.

J. Westaway (2019), ‘A surveillance sensibility? The imperial security state and the ‘amateur’ films of Sir C. P. Skrine, Government of India diplomat in Iran’, History of Archaeology Network, University College London, 14 March 2019.

J. Westaway (2019), ‘Sacred geographies and the political control of space: Travel narratives and the imperial security state in British India, 1857-1947’, In Search of Shangri-La: Travel Writing, Religious History, and Spirituality 8-9 March 2019 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Institut für Nordische Philologie & Interfakultärer Studiengang Religionswissenschaft.

J. Westaway (2018), The Great Gift of Freedom, with Sir Chris Bonington, Kendal Mountain Festival 2018, 18 November 2018.

J. Westaway (2018), The Royal Geographical Society film archive at Kendal, Kendal Mountain Festival 2018, 17 November 2018.

J. Westaway (2018), ‘Theatres of Silence: Censorship, Central Asian travel narratives and the imperial security state in British India, c.1900-1947’, Brits Abroad, Brits at Home: Travel Narratives from the Grand Tour to the End of Empire, 9th May, 2018, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, Senate House, London.

J. Westaway (2017), Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine: Filming in Central Asia, part of the RGS-IBG ‘Be Inspired’ lecture series, 20th November, 2017, Royal Geographical Society, London, UK.

J. Westaway (2016), Bodies of Ice: Mountaineering, Everest, Corpses, ESRC Encountering Corpses II, 19th March 2016, Manchester Crematorium/Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK.

J. Westaway (2015), Rituals of Extinction: Manhunting Games in the British Outdoor Movement, 1890-1914, Re-Thinking the Rural Seminar, InCertainPlaces, 20th May 2015, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.

J. Westaway (2014), That Undisclosed World: Eric Shipton and the Imperial Security State, Kendal Mountain Festival 2014, 22nd November 2014, Kendal, UK.

J. Westaway (2014), "A banner with a strange device": The Legacy of Longfellow's Poem Excelsior, Mountain Legacies, 21st May 2014, Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

CONFERENCE PAPERS (2014 to date)


J. Westaway (2017), ‘Bodies of Ice: Mount Everest as a mortuary landscape’ Death, Dying and Disposal 13: Ritual Religion and Magic, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, 6-9 September 2017.

J. Westaway (2017), ‘Prisoners of the hills: mountaineering narratives by prisoners of war and interned enemy aliens from World War Two’, 2017 Borders and Crossings Conference, University of Aberystwyth, 10-12 July https://borders2017.wordpress.com/cfp/

J.Westaway (2017), ‘Bodies of Ice: Mount Everest as a mortuary landscape’, 7thNordic Geographers Meeting, Stockholm 18-21 June 2017.  Paper accepted, unable to attend.

J. Westaway (2017), ‘Envisioning Switzerland in the Manchester Guardian, 1890-1925: C. E. Montague, British mountaineering and the Swiss tourist industry’, ‘Comment is Free, but facts are sacred’: The Guardian in Local, National and Global History, 6th April 2017, John Rylands University Library of Manchester, UK.


J.Westaway (2016), ‘“A banner with a strange device”: Longfellow’s Excelsior, Alpine idealism and the transcendent in European mountaineering’, Toujours plus haut, plus vite, plus engage? Gravir les Alpes du XIX siècle à nos jours: Pratiques, émotions, imaginaires, Université de Lausanne, Institut des sciences du sport de I’UNIL (ISSUL).  Salvan-Les-Marécottes, Switzerland, 22-24 September 2016.  Paper accepted, unable to attend.

J. Westaway (2016), ‘The Inuit “Discovery” of Europe? Finnfolk, Preternatural Objects and the abducted autochthonous body’, Landscape and Myth in North-Western Europe conference, Institute für Nordische Philologie, Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität, München, 6-8 April, 2016.  Paper accepted and presented on my behalf by conference convener, unable to attend.

CONFERENCE PAPERS (2014 to date)


J. Westaway (2015), ‘Be-wildering the colonial, re-wilding the hero: E. O. Shebbeare and the mobilization of indigenous knowledge in imperial mountaineering and colonial conservation practice’, The Heroes Conference, Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers, London 3rd-4th October 2015. https://theheroprojectahrc.wordpress.com/

J. Westaway (2015) ‘The weaponization of the pastoral: manhunting games in the English Lake District, 1890-1914’ Military Masculinities in the long Nineteenth Century, University of Hull, UK 20th -21st May 2015. https://militarymasculinities.wordpress.com/


J. Westaway (2014) ‘Rituals of Extinction: Manhunting Games in the British Outdoor Movement, 1890-1914’ World Congress of Environmental History, Guimarães, Portugal, 8-12 July 2014.  Paper accepted, unable to attend.   http://www.wceh2014.ecum.uminho.pt

J. Westaway (2014) ‘Mountains of Memory, Landscapes of Loss:  Scafell Pike and Great Gable as War Memorials, 1919-1924’ 83rd Anglo-American Conference of Historians: The Great War at Home, 3-4 July 2014, Institute of Historical Research, London.  Panel: The Great War in the English Lake Counties: a miscellany.

J. Westaway (2014) “A banner with a strange device”: Longfellow’s Excelsior and the metonymical presence of Idealism in mountaineering’, Literature and Physical Culture Conference, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.  10-11 April 2014. http://literatureandsport.wordpress.com/conferences/cfp2014/

J. Westaway (2014) ‘Siegfried Wedgewood Herford and Anglo-German Manchester’, Manchester Histories Festival, University of Manchester, 27 March 2014.