Historical geographies of the future: airships and the making of imperial atmospheres

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Abstract

This article explores the elemental encounters and imaginative geographies of empire to develop a new means of engaging with the historical geographies of the future. Futures have recently become an important topic of historical and cultural inquiry, and historical geographers have an important role to play in understanding the place of the future in the past and in interrogating the role of posited futures in shaping action in historical presents. Drawing on literature from science and technology studies, a framework is developed for engaging with the material and imaginative geographies that coalesce around practices of imagination, expectation, and prediction. This framework is then used to reconstruct efforts to develop airship travel in the British Empire in the 1920s and 1930s. At a moment of imperial anxiety, airships were hoped to tie the empire together by conveying bodies, capital, and military capacity between its furthest points. Confident projections of the colonization of global airspace were nonetheless undermined by material encounters with a vibrant, often unpredictable atmospheric environment. The article aims to spur renewed work on the historical geographies of the future, while also contributing to debates on the cultural and political geographies of the atmosphere and of atmospheric knowledge making. Key Words: atmosphere, empire, future, mobility, technology.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1279-1299
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Volume109
Issue number4
Early online date18 Mar 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

Keywords

  • atmosphere
  • empire
  • future
  • mobility
  • technology

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