Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above

Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above

by Caren Kaplan

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From the first vistas provided by flight in balloons in the eighteenth century to the most recent sensing operations performed by military drones, the history of aerial imagery has marked the transformation of how people perceived their world, better understood their past, and imagined their future. In Aerial Aftermaths Caren Kaplan traces this cultural history, showing how aerial views operate as a form of world-making tied to the times and places of war. Kaplan’s investigation of the aerial arts of war—painting, photography, and digital imaging—range from England's surveys of Scotland following the defeat of the 1746 Jacobite rebellion and early twentieth-century photographic mapping of Iraq to images taken in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Throughout, Kaplan foregrounds aerial imagery's importance to modern visual culture and its ability to enforce colonial power, demonstrating both the destructive force and the potential for political connection that come with viewing from above.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822372219
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 12/21/2017
Series: Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
File size: 86 MB
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About the Author

Caren Kaplan is Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis, and the author and editor of several books including Life in the Age of Drone Warfare, also published by Duke University Press.

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The First Military Survey of Scotland

The land was hilly and the king remote. — T. C. SMOUT, A History of the Scottish People

What could be more stable than geographical knowledge? "Ground truth" anchors contemporary preconceptions about physical geography to the comforting solid matter of the earth's crust; terrain may vary, but it is always already presumed to be empirically knowable, objectively real. Although several decades of cultural and social geography research have introduced interpretive and representational analyses of the ways in which information about places and spaces has developed historically, the cartographic products of the earth sciences continue to generate and fulfill desires for the certainties of geographic knowledge. This belief in the truth value of a map comes to constitute one of modernity's most powerful ideologies: the material ground of a singular, knowable world. Regardless of ample evidence that the representational practices that produce maps can offer only partial, incomplete, or uneven approximations of whatever it is that is "out there" to be measured or perceived, the belief in the "bedrock" of geographical science and its allied modes and formats of description remains firmly in place.

It is useful, then, to consider not only the ways in which aerial views are deeply entangled in the formation of modern geographical knowledge as a quantifiable science but also the ways in which that knowledge is repeatedly limited or undone by affective forces. Records and traces of these unruly perceptions remind us that neither the ground nor the air is consistently or coherently sensible. This chapter inquires into a transitional moment in the middle of the eighteenth century when wartime aftermaths — the quotidian dispositions of undeclared war — produced complex and dynamic modes of sensing and representing geographical information. In the midst of violence, grief, and triumph, the imaginary bird's-eye views of an earlier period were incorporated into the scientific process of measuring terrain, creating a restive, hybrid object — the First Military Survey of Scotland (see plate 5). Drawing on a variety of methods to produce the effect of an omniscient view from above, the British Board of Ordnance both emptied the terrain of historical meaning and content and "discovered" its ground truth for state infrastructural and governmental projects. In this early effort to innovate a "God's-eye" cartographic method, the aerial overview worked to unify and standardize a format of remote sensing through a total view "at a glance." Yet the experimental effort to "see all" as if from above also generated an uneven objectivity that could not fully disguise its violent dispositions.

Retrospectively, the Military Survey that was conducted in Scotland between 1747 and 1755 can be situated as the limited precursor of that much larger, high-powered engine of cartographic mastery, the British Ordnance Survey — a comprehensive undertaking that was initiated in 1791 and continually updated to this day. The Military Survey is a peculiar object, however. Never published or used in the field, produced through multiple techniques, and only vaguely accurate by contemporary terms, the Military Survey was unabashedly political in provenance. Its very title made no secret of its territorializing intentions. However, the surveyors and draftsmen who produced the map were British Board of Ordnance employees and, therefore, attached to a hybrid entity both linked to and distinct from the army. Furthermore, although the Military Survey seemed to mark the definitive end of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745–46, the ways in which the project drew together people, places, and instruments remind us that war registers its effects across varied tempos and spatial scales that cannot be neatly sorted into "before," "during," and "after" or even "here" and "there." These complex elements escape the purposeful containment of a temporal aftermath to trouble the Military Survey's conventional origin story with its emphasis on an entirely new endeavor under the sign of a unilateral spatialization of military occupation in an age of expanding empire. The Military Survey was convened to produce geographical knowledge of contested terrain, "filling in" space presumed or declared to be "blank." It is also possible to understand the practices drawn together in the Military Survey not simply as filling in a stable spatial field but as contributing to the forceful emptying of a space always already under construction, creating a specifically cartographic format as the dispositional domain of British state infrastructure.

The emergent cartography of an experimental project like the Military Survey relied on a combination of elements ranging from picturesque landscape art, the military sketch, chorographic maps, and mathematical methods of triangulation to practices and tools borrowed from estate mapping. As J. B. Harley noted, the Military Survey should be regarded not so much as an entirely new format but as a "fusion of existing trends" (1980, 2). Yet the Military Survey is often held to be the initiator of a more seamless and holistic view of terrain. In this instance, we can see how the modernity of mapping incorporated diverse ways and means as well as media only to subsume this uneven complexity in favor of a mythologized way of seeing. This active mode of viewing, or "seeing all," became understood to be instantaneous — a coup d'oeil — as if a viewer could hover over the earth to survey its surface in detail and perceive everything in an instant. Several decades before human flight in the first balloons launched in Western Europe, the Military Survey represented the view from above as an embodied form of perception, as if flying far above the earth. Yet, ironically, this vantage point was made modern (as opposed to the earlier bird's-eye lithographs of cities) not by flight but by measuring the ground, often on foot. This tension between a focus on the ground from the ground and a representation of the site in its entirety as if viewed from the sky undergirds the foundation of modern cartography. Furthermore, this seemingly total and realistic aerial view moved from a physical act of observation accomplished by surveyors on-site to remote sensing via an "inward eye" as draftsmen at a distance created the map itself. The Military Survey gave "form to feeling" by incorporating a variety of practices and modes of perception along with an early version of what contemporary military observers term sense making — incorporating the commander's understanding of a situation, with the primacy of geographical information as a given, as a technique of decision-making.

The Military Survey was conceived by a small group of British military commanders who argued that resurgent rebellions and potential invasions from the north could be significantly ameliorated with an accurate map of the territory. With the elimination of the threat of the reinstitution of the Stuart monarchical line after the ambitious Jacobite uprising was definitively suppressed in 1746, Scotland was targeted for military occupation and infrastructural development. A new map was needed in order to "see" the territory, plan for more roads and forts, and facilitate the movements of troops, goods, and civilian traffic as well as to facilitate the reorganization of property confiscated from Jacobite landowners. The advocates of the project proposed to send a tiny band of surveyors into a landscape that they described as almost impenetrably wild and unknown, nearly empty or inhabited by people who had come to be regarded as savages. However, the Highlands had been emptied more by war and famine than by "nature." Carol Burns has argued that no place on earth is purely cleared or entirely empty; rather, landscapes are densely layered from accrued actions over time, making space. These strata are hard to see because they are "physically and spatially coextensive," which leads to "interruption, simultaneity, discontinuity, synchronism, fragmentation, coincidence, and disruption." An "abstract overlay of mathematics" of the kind used in modern surveys actually "masks" topography as the illusion of a singular scientific system makes invisible the multitude of "natural and man-made" systems that contribute to physical form. In this coextensive force field, Burns argues that the urge to see all, to decipher perfectly or measure precisely the terrain, still leaves out what is "difficult to see," particularly "what is not immediately present" (1991, 154). Within the omniscient grasp of the totalizing view, innumerable elements may be lost to sense and thus to human history. On the other hand, some aspects of landscapes and life forms that are evacuated or seemingly eliminated by modern mapping may be perceptible beyond the cartographic grid through trace, evidentiary record, memory, sensation, or magnitudes of absence. Thus, even as the Military Survey attempted to represent an occupied territory through modern mathematical methods of measurement, "masking" difficult elements of the topography under observation and leaving absent visible evidence of wartime aftermaths, the structural limitations of time, distance, and format generated "unruly intensities" that insinuated themselves into the scientific practices of "sense making."


The actuality of the lived world is always multispectral, sensed through a resonant array of materials. ... This also means that remote sensing is never merely an act of recovery. It is always haunted by the prospect of that which cannot be sensed, by the limits of its own spectral logics.

Derek McCormack, "Remotely Sensing Affective Afterlives"

The commonsense understanding of aftermath as linear, the duration following the end of hostilities, tries to impose a sense of order on chaotic and insensible experiences. However, traumatic events refuse to stay in place, not simply "returning" but destabilizing perceptions of temporality and space, collapsing or expanding distance and time, producing a wide range of attempts to live on in the midst of the unpredictable excess or absence of emotion — what Kathleen Stewart refers to as "rogue intensities" (2007, 44). Although maps may appear to our eyes as the epitome of a tightly closed system of production and interpretation — if we learn the signs and symbols, we believe that we can read any standard map — they can be produced and read, even unevenly or partially, as productive of unruly affects. As an artifact of the dynamic and plural aftermaths of political violence, the Military Survey generated a terrain of affective intensities that may be sensed even from the remote reaches of our century. Nevertheless, the Military Survey is most often presented in contemporary geographical discourse as the first accomplished instantiation of rational cartographic planning and execution from a distance. As the National Library of Scotland website puts it, "this was the first time the whole of the Scottish mainland — the islands were excluded — had been mapped at once to the same specification" (n.d.).

According to the often-cited reminiscence of William Roy, the lead surveyor, the stated intention of the Military Survey was to ameliorate Britain's lack of geographical knowledge of a restive peripheral region, the Highlands, in order to assist in military occupation (Arden-Close 1969, 2–3). The mountainous territory had confounded and frightened British troops and frustrated their commanders not only during the recent Jacobite uprising but over centuries of armed incursions. In mapping ground that had been represented as an always already desolate wasteland, the surveying party traversed a physical environment replete with a recent overlay of death and destruction. The surveyors operated after math. That is, they moved cyclically as well as linearly, at varying paces: inventing and supplementing established procedures of remote sensing and representation, engaging intensities of environment and lingering hostilities, striving without always succeeding to overcome a mountainous ground that disturbed contemporary understanding of lines of sight. If, as so many chroniclers assert, an image of national coherence came into view over time as the surveyors measured and mapped, we can also sense other, less legible or easily documented encounters or possibilities. This was not a map that charted the deepening famine or the fresh graves or the empty crofts of deported or imprisoned Highlanders. This was not even a map that evinced curiosity about the best places to fish or grow a certain crop or locate a particular herb. The Military Survey reminds us that most modern rational projects announce insistently their objective intentions even as they transmit the affective, nonsynchronous intensities of conflict's aftermaths, emptying as well as filling the fields of information and perception.

The Military Survey generated a format for geographical knowledge in ongoing wartime aftermaths, one that drew on direct sensory evidence as well as more remote practices of representation. Conceived of as both a panacea to an absence of modern military maps during a past conflict and as an aggressive reshaping of the territorial imaginary of the future of the north of Scotland, the Military Survey required "boots on the ground," as it were, as well as a "mind's eye in motion." That is, the small group of men who argued relentlessly for the financial and political support of the Military Survey not only sought to produce a more accurate map by sending surveyors out to measure on foot but also proposed an abstract conceptualization of this more mathematical procedure — an aerial view of an entire area rendered to scale. This view from above would be "real" rather than imaginary like the bird's-eye views from the early modern period since the information would be transferred from the surveyors' measuring chains and sketches to the artists working in the Ordnance Survey branch office in Edinburgh. The entire operation would be organized systematically and scientifically, drawing on modern methods of triangulation where possible. Yet the surveyors traversed a terrain marked by warfare: burned villages, sites of executions, new prisons and garrisons under construction, and a population undergoing deprivation and displacement. Wearing the smart blue uniforms of the Board of Ordnance, accompanied by red-coated British Army personnel, the surveyors represented the Hanoverian state and its enterprise of unification through military occupation. The map they created vibrated with conflicting affective forces and intensities even as it was intentionally formatted to produce a more universal, scientific standard.

The Military Survey was conducted by the victors in a war that set Scots against each other as well as against Britain's Hanoverian regime. Building on the simmering energies of uprisings earlier in the century, the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 sought to reestablish the House of Stuart as the rightful rulers of Great Britain. Drawing together a complex alliance of Catholic, Irish, and French interests as well as many powerful Highland clan–affiliated fighters, a large contingent led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart moved south through the Lowlands of Scotland and northern England, reaching a point within 150 miles of London. An alarmed King George II sent his son, Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, to aggressively put down the insurrection. Pushed back into Scotland, the Jacobite forces were defeated once and for all on April 16, 1746, in a battle on Culloden moor near Inverness. After Culloden, the British Army exacted brutal retribution not only against any survivors of the Jacobite cause but seemingly against all life forms in the Highlands — a crushing combination of execution, imprisonment, deportation, and confiscation of property that included the razing of villages and estates, systematic sexual assault of women and girls, banning the use of the Gaelic language, as well as forbidding the Highland manner of dress and most signs of clan affiliation. The areas most deeply affected were in the remote higher elevations where the British Army determined that resistance to their presence was most likely to endure and even flourish unless harsh measures were undertaken. The economy collapsed and famine ensued, sending many people to the cities in the south or abroad to the colonies to look for work. In the Highlands, following the suppression of the Jacobite uprising, ways of life and the land itself became more firmly organized under the terms of British political "unification" and a civilizing mission of "pacification."


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Aerial Aftermaths  1
1. Surveying Wartime Aftermaths: The First Military Survey of Scotland  34
2. Balloon Geography: The Emotion of Motion in Aerostatic Wartime  68
3. La Nature à Coup d'Oeil: "Seeing All" in Early Panoramas  104
4. Mapping "Mesopotamia": Aerial Photography in Early Twentieth-Century Iraq  138
5. The Politics of the Sensible: Aerial Photography's Wartime Aftermaths  180
Afterword. Sensing Distance  207
Notes  217
Works Cited  255
Index  277

What People are Saying About This

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness - Simone Browne

"Caren Kaplan's Aerial Aftermaths is a brilliant and wide-ranging examination of aerial ways of seeing and the history of the technologies employed when it comes to representing that which can be observed from on high. From the exploits of early aeronauts, military mapping, and what is seen and sensed through panoramic paintings to aerial surveying as a means of colonial governance and more, Kaplan's absorbing analysis is unmatched in its depth. With far-reaching implications for the study of visual culture and, crucially, how we interrogate the violence of drones and remote warfare, Aerial Aftermaths is essential reading."

Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture - Lisa Cartwright

“Caren Kaplan’s Aerial Aftermaths is the leading work in an important new crossover field between visual studies, science and technology studies, and critical theory of geography. Not since Anne Friedberg’s The Virtual Window have we seen such a richly researched and theorized media archaeology of technologies of visuality. This is the account of ‘objective’ seeing from above that critical technoscience studies readers have been waiting for since Donna Haraway held forth against this ocular ‘God trick’ almost thirty years ago. Kaplan’s book comes at a time when we urgently need the kind of historical insight she offers about the geopolitical and military technologics that inform the myriad contemporary global systems through which surveillance and control are enforced.”

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