Nineteenth-century hot air balloons as early drones
Digital drone surveillance practices can erase notions of a three-dimensional space continuum and destabilise territorial boundaries. This chapter, however, aims to show that this process of spatial flattening is not exclusively a feature of digital, but also of analogue forms of surveillance. Its focus is aerial surveillance from hot air balloons, which was initiated by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783. Analysing nineteenth-century poetic literature about ballooning (Jean Paul), this chapter aims to show that the balloon view triggered new forms of spatial perception (loss of central perspective, the diffusion of spatial boundaries, blind spots). As the literary works show, this flatting of the horizon was closely entwined with a critique of social hierarchies and seen as a symbol for social mobility; issues also at stake in current deliberations about fluid surveillance and space. This chapter critically discusses the similarities of hot air balloon reconnaissance with contemporary drone surveillance technologies and initiates a debate about whether forms of pervasive surveillance and their reconfigurations of communities are an exclusive effect of the digital.
This book investigates drone technology from a humanities point of view by exploring how civilian and military drones are represented in visual arts and literature. It opens up a new aesthetic ‘drone imaginary’, a prism of cultural and critical knowledge, through which the complex interplay between drone technology and human communities is explored, and from which its historical, cultural and political dimensions can be assessed. The contributors to this volume offer diverse approaches to this interdisciplinary field of aesthetic drone imaginaries. Sprouting from art history, literature, photography, feminism, postcolonialism and cultural studies, the chapters provide new insights to the rapidly evolving field of drone studies. They include historical perspectives on early unmanned aviation and aerial modes of vision; they explore aesthetic configurations of drone swarming, robotics and automation; and they engage in current debates on how drone technology alters the human body, upsets available categories, and creates new political imaginaries.