Air Empire: British Imperial Civil Aviation, 1919-39

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Air empire is a fresh study of civil aviation as a tool of late British imperalism.

Airships, flying boats and aeroplanes promised to modernise maritime empire, help legitimate imperialism, and speed up imperial contact and trade. The most ardent and least self-conscious proponents of air empire thought it was the key to ensuring the future of civilisation itself.

The first pioneering flights across the British empire in 1919-20 were flag-waving adventures that recreated an era of plucky British Maritime exploration and conquest. Converting that triumphalism into scheduled airline service was difficult.

Britain's development of international air routes and services was approved, organised and celebrated largely in London; there was some resistance in and beyond the subordinate colonies and dominions. Negotiating the financing and geopolitics of regular commercial air service delayed its inception until the 1930s. Technological, managerial and logistical problems also meant that Britain was slow into the air. Propaganda concealed underperformance and criticism.

The study uses archival sources, biographies, industry magazines and newspapers to chronicle the disputed progress toward air empire. The rhetoric behind imperial air service offers a glimpse of late imperial hopes, fears, attitudes and style. Empire air service had emotional appeal and symbolic value, but disappointed in practice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The field of academic air transport historical geography may be a very small one but Air Empire sets dauntingly high standards of scholarship and accessible, elegant prose." — Brian Graham Journal of Transport Geography, 18 (2010) p. 761

" a thoroughly researched and well-written and illustrated volume which will appeal to a wide audience. Pirie convincingly recounts the tortuous path which led to the formation of imperial civil aviation, and the effect this had - not necessarily on Empire, but on the imaginations of Empire within Britain." — Federico Caprotti, African Affairs, 110 (2011), pp. 148-149.

"[a] hugely informative and entertaining study." — Stephen Constantine, Twentieth Century British History, 2010.

"He skilfully interweaves a narrative history of imperial civil aviation with a fascinating exploration of less obvious topics Journal of Historical Geography"

"a triumph for its author, and for the Studies in Imperialism series ..." — Prof Ashley Jackson, review in Journal of Southern African Studies, 36 (4) (2010) p. 966

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780719041112
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Gordon Pirie is Professor of Geography at the University of the Western Cape in greater Cape Town, South Africa

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

List of illustrations ix

General editor's introduction xi

1 Introduction 1

Part I Looking up

2 Ideas and initiatives 10

3 Empire airway pioneering 26

4 Conferring and agitating 47

Part II Talking up

5 Organising Empire civil aviation 66

6 Route reconnaissance 82

7 Propagating Empire aviation 99

Part III Holding up

8 Trunk route development 112

9 Route organisation 126

10 Eastern crescent 145

11 African arc 160

Part IV Shoring up

12 Arguing about Imperial Airways 178

13 Reconfiguring Empire aviation 195

14 Transformation 216

15 Conclusion 235

Index 245

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