Jon Cooksey. The Vest Pocket Kodak & The First World War. Lewes: Ammonite Press, 2017. A small book on an interesting topic. The utility and portability of the Vest Pocket Kodak camera made it incredibly popular with soldiers in the front lines and behind them, mostly British here (though the French and Germans are not excluded). As you'd hope, well-illustrated, including one or two photos of actual combat and even atrocities -- and a koala!

Lawrence Freedman. The Future of War: A History. Allen Lane, 2017. This looks like a lot of fun. Exactly what you'd expect from the title, though it does concentrate on the post-1945 era (not surprisingly given Freedman's own areas of expertise). I'm please to see the knock-out blow features prominently in the early chapters, though!

Robert Gerwath. The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923. Penguin, 2017. I saw a preview of this research back at the Perth AAEH in 2011 and I'm glad to have finally have the results in my hands. Why did the First World War fail to end? Because violence continued in many parts of Europe after the Armistice, not only in actual wars and civil wars but at the paramilitary level too. The focus is rightly on Russia, Germany, and parts in between, but I'll be interested to see what he has to say about western Europe too.

David G. Morgan-Owen. The Fear of Invasion: Strategy, Politics, and British War Planning, 1880-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. One I've been looking forward to; a critique of the refusal of British military, naval and political leaders to properly think through the implications of decisions such as the committment to a continental expeditionary force over home defence, forcing the Navy into a defensive and reactive posture when war came. A disturbing lack of Zeppelins in the index, however.

Christopher Schaberg. Airportness: The Nature of Flight. New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. What does airmindedness look like now, when flying is as routine as most of the early air prophets dreamed -- but also therefore mundane and often tedious? It could look something like airportness.

Alan Stephens. Going Solo: The Royal Australian Air Force, 1946-1971. Canberra: AGPS Press, 1995. A random secondhand bookshop find; doubly appropriate as I was reading Coulthard-Clark's equivalent volume for the 1921-39 period at the time. Yoink!

Postcard of Amy Johnson c. 1930

Things have been a bit quiet here lately, which I hope will change soon. But I haven't been entirely inactive in blogging terms: I've written a guest post on the construction of authority in early British aviation for the German Historical Institute's History of Knowledge blog. The history of knowledge is a newish historiographical endeavour, which falls somewhere in between, as well as across, more familiar areas like the history of ideas, the history of science, the history of books, and so on. As explained at History of Knowledge itself:

Knowledge does not simply exist, awaiting discovery and use. Knowledge is produced, adapted, forgotten, rejected, superseded, expanded, reconfigured, and more—always by human beings (at least in this more-or-less pre-AI age), alone or in communities, always in culturally, socially, economically, and institutionally specific contexts.

Knowledge is central to most purposeful human practices, whether at work, in the family, or for worship, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether passed down by hands-on training or through books and other storage and retrieval systems. Both product and basis of human interactions, knowledge has a history. Indeed, human history cannot be understood apart from the history of knowledge.

Writing the post gave me the chance to put together a few ideas I had about how and why certain people -- I mostly discuss S. F. Cody, along with Hiram Maxim, Baden Baden-Powell, Claude Grahame-White, P. R. C. Groves, Amy Johnson and H. G. Wells -- gained the status of aviation experts in the public sphere. It didn't always have much to do with actual flying ability or even experience; it was in least part socially and culturally constructed. Much more could of course be said about the topic, but for the moment you can head on over to History of Knowledge to read my post.

Thanks to Mark Stoneman for the invitation!

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.


I'm very pleased to announce that I have been awarded an Australian Bicentennial Fellowship by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College London. This is a travel grant which I will use to come to the UK to continue research for my next book, a history of Britain under the German air raids of the First World War, tentatively entitled Zeppelins and Gothas. I'll have more to say about the book in due course (i.e. when I've got a publisher!) but for now it's very exciting to be able to start thinking about my next research trip (it's nearly three years since my last one, which this will be building upon). A few things will have to line up first, but if they do the trip will be in the first half of 2018, likely in the spring, and will take in London and probably Leeds, and perhaps elsewhere. I'll have more to say about all that in due course too.

Here I would just like to thank not only the Menzies Centre for the Fellowship, but also Dr Dan Todman and the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London, who kindly agreed to host me during my stay, as well as the two academic referees who supported my application but who I won't embarrass by naming here!

Paul Gooding. Historic Newspapers in the Digital Age: 'Search All About It!' London and New York: Routledge, 2017. I was hoping for more of a practical guide to the many methodological issues involving the use of digitised newspapers than this provides; it's much more about the theoretical issues surrounding digitisation and how that connects (or disconnects) with how users actually interact with digitised newspaper archives. Still looks interesting.

Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwing. War Planning 1914. New York: Cambridge Universty Press, 2010. A useful survey of the evolution of how the major European powers planned to fight in 1914 -- and 1915, since Italy is included, though Turkey is not.

G. Gibbard Jackson. The Splendid Book of the Army and the Air Force. London: Sampson Low, Marston, [1932?]. A very splendid book aimed at splendid children to tell them of the splendid work done by the Army and the Air Force -- in the latter case including Hendon and air control, in a way which Baden-Powell could have found no fault. A gift: thanks, Richard!

Michael John Law. The Experience of Suburban Modernity: How Private Transport Changed Interwar London. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. Cars, bicycles, motorcycles, yes, yes. But there's also a whole chapter on 'Suburban airmindedness', including (but not limited to) the experience of air displays such as (but not only) Hendon. Excellent.

Susan Pedersen. The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. A very well-received study of the mandate system, its limitations, its failures and its critics. Of most interest to me, though, is the chapter on the response to the French bombing of Damascus in its Syrian mandate in 1926, a subject of which I am quite ignorant.

Hendon, July 1928

Above is a pair of stereo photos kindly sent to me by Tim Lees, who found them in his father's collection. There's a slight mystery as to the occasion. The label at the top reads 'Hendon - July '28', which suggests they were taken at the RAF Display at Hendon in 1928, but that year it was held in June. So there's an error somewhere: either the day (it was on the last day of June) or the year (the 1927 and 1929 Hendons were both held in July). Or perhaps it wasn't at Hendon at all, but at one of the regional displays where RAF squadrons sometimes reprised their Hendon performances? It might not have been labelled until some years after the event. There's no real way to tell.

The photos themselves show reasonably well-dressed spectators standing in amongst their motor cars, watching two vics of what look like Armstrong Whitworth Siskins, judging from the sesquiplanes (click to zoom in). There's not enough detail to say much more, but that certainly fits the period: Siskins were highly maneuverable (the RCAF even used them for an early aerobatic team) and they featured at Hendon between 1925 and 1931.
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C. D. Coulthard-Clark. The Third Brother: The Royal Australian Air Force 1921-39. North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1991. The classic history of the early RAAF (not that there is much serious competition). People, policies, institutions, infrastructure -- it's all here, even air displays!

Richard P. Hallion. Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911-1945. Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1989. In a different way to Coulthard-Clark, another classic -- less detailed but equally comprehensive, including coverage of the role of combat air support in the various small and smallish conflicts in the interwar period.

Thomas Hippler. Governing from the Skies: A Global History of Aerial Bombing. London and Brooklyn: Verso, 2017. Follows up Hippler's previous work on Douhet by tracing a thread from air control to area or terror bombing to nuclear war the potentially unlimited (geoographical, but also and more importantly legal) reach of drone strikes. Looks like an interesting update of Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing.

Stefanie Linden. They Called it Shell Shock: Combat Stress in the First World War. Solihull: Helion, 2016. Based on PhD research into hundreds of case files on British and German shell-shocked soldiers, which should be a fascinating comparison. Also examines the effect of the study and attempted treatment of these men on the practice of medical research itself. One chapter touches on the Angel of Mons, though alas there seem to be no phantom airships.

Airem Scarem

In an earlier series of posts I discussed Australia's first airship, the White Australia, which flew in 1914. It turns out that there was an earlier Australian airship, of a sort: the Airem Scarem. Indeed, according to a 1907 newspaper advertisement it was the 'First Airship below the line' (equator, presumably). From the above photo, taken in 1908, Airem Scarem was a trim little vessel, though the envelope is a bit on the small side and the propulsion system, which seems to consist of no engine and two tiny propellors fore and aft, hardly seems adequate. Fortunately the Airem Scarem was assisted in its flights by being suspended from a cable -- which has been crudely whited-out from the above photo -- because it wasn't a real airship at all but rather an amusement park ride, at Wonderland City in Tamarama, a beachside suburb of Sydney.
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Not a phantom airship

It is seventy years since since 24 June 1947, when Kenneth Arnold saw nine crescent-shaped objects flying at high speed past Mt Rainier; in other words, seventy years since the emergence of the UFO phenomenon. Often, when I talk or write about phantom airships, the topic of UFOs comes up, and with good reason. The similarities are obvious: both modern UFOs and the earlier mystery aircraft are to a large extent unknown objects seen in the sky, upon which we project our own fears and fantasies. Once those fears and fantasies reflected the concerns caused by coming of flight; then they reflected the concerns of the dawn of the rocket/atomic age.

And yet, when the topic of UFOs does come up, for the most part I will do no more than note the obvious correspondences, and disclaim any interest in the modern manifestation of the phenomenon. In other words, I run the other way. So why is that?
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G for George

Here in Australia, yesterday, the first Sunday in June, was Bomber Command Commemorative Day. The occasion was marked with ceremonies in most state capitals. The major event, at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra, spanned the whole weekend and included a flypast by a RAAF Hornet and a wreathlaying ceremony, which remarkably is claimed to be the third-most attended commemoration at the AWM, after Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.
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A. Bowdoin Van Riper. Imagining Flight: Aviation and Popular Culture. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004. In some ways this feels like similar territory to Joseph Corn's The Winged Gospel, but as the title suggests it has more of a popular culture focus (especially film). It also has much more of a worldwide and comparative scope, which together with its conciseness might make it a good introductory text on airmindedness.