A Spectacular History of Survey by Flying Machine!

Wickstead, Helen and Barber, Martyn (2012) A Spectacular History of Survey by Flying Machine! Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 22(1), pp. 71-88. ISSN (print) 0959-7743


The origins of archaeological methods are often surprising, revealing unexpected connections between science, art and entertainment. This paper explores aerial survey, a visual method commonly represented as distancing or objective. We show how aerial survey’s visualising practices embody subjective notions of vision emerging throughout the nineteenth century. Aerial survey smashes linear perspective, fragments time-space, and places radical doubt at the root of claims to truth. Its techniques involve hallucination, and its affinities are with stop-motion photography and cinema. Exposing the juvenile dementia of aerial survey’s infancy releases practitioners and critics from the impulse to defend or demolish its ‘enlightenment’ credentials.

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