James Philip Robinson – Targeting the vital: vertical visualities and the exposure of the British landscape, 1936-1945



Event date: 8 December 2010
Bedford Square London
WC1E 6DP

Royal Holloway University of London Department of Geography

Vertical Geographies


Recent geographical scholarship has highlighted the importance of ‘verticality’ – aerial and three dimensional perspectives – in conceptualizations of space, territory, sovereignty and power. Within the subdiscipline of critical geopolitics, this interest has been, in part, provoked by recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan and mobilized though broader discussions of warfare, surveillance, air (and space) power, communications technologies and military hardware.

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James Philip Robinson (Aberystwyth University)
Targeting the vital: vertical visualities and the exposure of the British landscape,  1936-1945

Throughout the interwar period, Britons marvelled at the wonder of the aeroplane, revelling in  excitement at the possibilities it enabled. At the same time, optimism was countered with feelings  of anxiety, of the imagined and affective realities of destruction that aerial warfare could wreak. In response to this perceived threat, civil defence planners instigated the static camouflage project, resulting in the production of perceptively hidden practices and spaces of concealment within the  British landscape. In this paper, I explore the intelligence-gathering processes of the camoufleurs, and their attempts to collect knowledge as to the conspicuousness of key industrial targets  through the systematic observation of the landscape from the air. Centred on the examination of  RAF observational reports, I discuss the characteristics that rendered factories and other industrial  installations as targets, before demonstrating some of the attempts which were made to make  such features merge into the landscape.

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