“The World, the Air and the Future”: Airship Science and the Imperial Discovery of the Atmosphere by Dr Martin Mahony
Date : 10 Mar 2017
Time : 12:00 - 13:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Assoc Prof Greg Clancey, Asia Research Institute, and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore


How people imagine, speculate and predict possible futures, and the effects of these efforts on action in the present, has recently become a key concern of work across various branches of sociology, history, and human geography. Studies of imperial ideology and practice have shown empires to be fundamentally future-oriented projects, but such work has not yet fully embraced histories of science and technology. Importing the notion of ‘socio-technical imaginaries’ from science & technology studies, this paper examines the origins, embedding, resistance to, and extension of “collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures” (Jasanoff 2015, 4) in the context of interwar British imperialism. Specifically, the paper examines a socio-technical imaginary of imperial aviation, consisting of hopes for a comprehensive system of worldwide aerial transport which would facilitate imperial unification along economic, political and cultural lines. Focusing on the airship as an imagined and particularly charismatic means of connectivity, this paper investigates the intersection of imagination and practice in this atmospheric imperialism, particularly the role of meteorology in rendering legible and predictable the aerial spaces through which this new imperialism would be projected and performed.

By delineating the practices and politics of imagination, expectation and prediction, the talk will reconstruct a project to develop a regular airship service to India, which was positioned as both an aerial stepping stone en route to Australia, and as the destination of choice for various political ambitions and imperial performances. Concerns about Indian meteorology nonetheless troubled the airship designers, with alterations made to accommodate subcontinental heat ultimately contributing to the fiery end of Britain’s flag-carrying airship. The case therefore provides new insights into the imagined and practiced geographies of air and empire, and to the work performed by the future in the shaping of imperial fortunes.


Martin Mahony is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Nottingham Research Fellow in the School of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK. He works on the intersections of environment, science and society, with a particular focus on the cultural politics of climate and the history of the atmospheric sciences. He has published widely on the histories and the visual cultures of climate science, and past and present geographies of atmospheric knowledge. His current research interests include the historical geographies of science, empire and climate in the British colonial world.


Admission is free, and light refreshments will be provided. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.

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Minghua TAY