Mountains in the Shape of the Globe: Social and economic impacts of transoceanic exchanges on the southern valleys of the Three Leagues

Travel descriptions of the Alps from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often stressed the harsh climate conditions and poor soil which would have hampered the economic and cultural development of local societies. Written by members of the urban elite, these accounts had a long-lasting impact on the historiography of the Alps in which the effects of environmental factors were since discussed prominently. From Fernand Braudel's statement of the Alps as a factory of men, to recent publications on the complex integration of Alpine lives in urban and even global markets, nature was generally conceptualised as a precondition that affected dispositions, strategies, and needs, but was seldom analysed as a physical environment that was shaped by its inhabitants.

In my paper, I change the perspective by exploring how Alpine landscapes were transformed by transoceanic transfers on the example of the Italian-speaking valleys of the Three Leagues. For doing so, I first look at interventions that allowed to raise the funds necessary to directly access global exchange systems. This comprised of deforestations, the maintenance of pastures, the creation of terraces for viticulture, but also the cultivation of chestnut and walnut trees. Secondly, I examine the role that mountain passes and transportation routes played for embedding the valleys in the global flux of goods and persons. In a third and final point, I ask about the knowledge and technics that went along with those flows. While skills around the preparation of hot beverages like coffee and chocolate strongly affected networks of migration and trade, the nascent of the regional sericulture let to the cultivation of mulberry trees and silkworms.

By exploring how characteristics that were often described as typical for Alpine landscapes resulted from intercontinental connections, this paper aims to discuss, both, the position of the Alps within global exchange systems as well as the role that global dimensions played in everyday life.