Aerial Aftermaths

Wartime from Above

Aerial Aftermaths

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

More about this series

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 58 illustrations (incl. 24 in Published: January 2018

Author: Caren Kaplan

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Geography, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

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.


"Kaplan challenges the assessment that the view from above must always entail power and control, though that’s often the purpose of this perspective. . . . As Kaplan shows, the view from above can be appropriated by artists and activists to challenge military claims and call attention to the suffering on the ground. She herself takes a view from higher above to critique drone warfare." — Jason Pearl, Public Books

"[A] fascinating history which [Kaplan] illustrates with well-chosen images sprinkled throughout the text. She shows that while the aerial perspective is far from new, contemporary viewers almost always find it fresh and consider the view from the heavens to be particularly revealing." — Neta C. Crawford, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

"Stimulating. . . . The author’s usage of the literature is deft, keeping the text moving with discussion and a contemporary turn of phrase. . . . The book is well designed and fully indexed making it a valuable resource for interdisciplinary study and discussion." — Mike Leggett, Leonardo Reviews

"An intelligent, engaging tour-de-force bringing into conversation with one another a variety of different media, images and texts, and persuading the readers through its thoughtful reconstruction and deconstruction of historical instances of all-encompassing vision to learn something even about the unconscious ways they may view the world themselves." — Laleh Khalili, New Americanist

"Caren Kaplan’s brilliant new Aerial Aftermaths is full of quotable material . . . The author is clear that she wants to interrogate the kind of thinking that makes for grand narratives. And we are better for it. Kaplan’s deconstruction of such narratives is necessarily interdisciplinary, as she impressively reads across a host of literatures in geography, history, American studies and technology/media studies, but it is especially noteworthy for bringing art historians and critics into the fold. She nimbly reads images against the grain, finding the gaps and absences and filling them with historical and critical insight." — Timothy Barney, Imago Mundi

"Most of the viewpoints summarized in Kaplan’s argument come from the study of visual culture. Her success in excerpting pertinent observations from writers in a wide variety of intellectual disciplines, including alternative and emerging ones, is one of her book’s major accomplishments. Another strength is her utilization of recent interest in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century panoramas to place those works in the context of the emerging contemporary conceptualization of the Earth’s surface from the air." — Jonathan Lewis, Cartographic Perspectives

"Kaplan’s erudition and deep thought emerge from every page, and her prose is as purposeful and potent as one would expect from a Duke monograph. Aerial Aftermaths is a powerful, timely and elegantly crafted book that shrewdly subverts the optics of war." — Peter Hobbins, Cultural Studies Review

"Kaplan troubles both the conventional wisdom that vision from above results in the immediately legible and its opposite: that vision from above evacuates the possibility of what we can see. She compels her reader to consider the violence 'always already inherent in both desires.'"  

— Jennifer Kelly, Radical History Review

"A historically astute account of becoming-aerial, Kaplan’s text is a valuable, careful and nuanced contribution to a wider collection of aerially attentive interventions." — Anna Jackman, Postcolonial Studies

"Throughout Aerial Aftermaths, Kaplan refuses the privileges afforded by the view from above, instead writing a history of aerostation that is more panoramic in its perspective; in this way, she locates herself, and her readers, as its subjects. . . . By simultaneously defamiliarizing the history of airpower and grounding us all within it, Kaplan maps out a dynamic terrain from which to regard these mobile technologies and, more importantly, contemplate strategies for resisting them." — Rebecca A. Adelman, Transfers

"Anyone with an interest in state power, surveillance, drone theory or technology, the history of colonialism, art history, military history, or the history of visual culture would find this study enriching and challenging." — Grace Aldridge Foster, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies

"[A] sweeping, richly illustrated work on the uses of aerial views in wartime aftermaths." — Blair Stein, Technology and Culture

"Caren Kaplan has given us a fascinating tour through a number of key examples in a much longer history of the aerial view than most other authors provide." — Alison J. Williams, Journal of Historical Geography

"Kaplan’s book is undoubtedly well-researched, with spectacular and effective visual examples provided throughout." — Nadine Kolz, Continuum

"Instead of conceptualizing the world ‘down below’ as simply ‘out there’, Kaplan details how the ‘out there’ has been simultaneously captured and manufactured. Her consideration of the history of how we have come to see as such informs us that such sights and meanings have almost always been crafted and constructed, over time, through habits, routines, and experiences." — Samarjit Ghosh, Geopolitics

“Bringing together mapping, photography, war, and the interrogation of the aerial view, Kaplan’s engaged study Aerial Aftermaths underscores the significance of that view to contemporary visual culture. Moreover, Kaplan links this account to an established critique of cartography as a form of power and more particularly an engagement with Western control over non-Western landscapes and peoples.”

— Jeremy Black, American Historical Review

"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." — Simone Browne, author of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

“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.” — Lisa Cartwright, coauthor of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
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
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7017-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7008-6
Publicity material