Losing Touch with the Ground: Verticality, Aerial Survey and the Colonial Representation of Africa, 1910–1955

Project: Research

Project Details


Mapping is used by state bodies, businesses, communities and individuals, to bound and to describe territories. In the context of British colonial Africa, survey documents were drawn up by multiple parties, sometimes for scientific purposes, but more often to record taxation and usage. From the mid-1920s, aerial photogrammetry significantly changed the scope and content of colonial maps, the technical processes that produced them, and also their use. Losing Touch with the Ground describes the shift from the age of exploration with compass and sketchpad, to post-war industrial scale instruments, whether radar, plotters, or printers. The project uses Northern Rhodesia as a case study to examine how these changes in cartographic technology reconfigured relationships between local administrative officials, international mining conglomerates, forestry agencies, town planners, private air survey and the RAF; between colonisers and colonised.

This research is carried out in the context of a Combined Doctoral Award, and I am working at both Royal Holloway, University of London and the Science Museum. Inspired by the instrument collection at the museum, I hope to bring these histories of twentieth-century mapping into not only a written, but also into a web-based audio-visual presentation.
Effective start/end date19/09/1119/09/14