Publications

Bystander, 17 August 1938, 277

After thirty-six (!) months, 'Spectre and spectacle: mock air raids as aerial theatre in interwar Britain', my chapter in Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber, eds., Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, is now available for a free download under green open access (in this case, pre-copy editing). Here's the abstract:

This chapter argues that aerial theatre, in the form of annual air displays at Hendon and on Empire Air Day, was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to generate a sensationally modern image of technological sublimity through violent spectacles of aerial warfare, including the performance of mock air raids. This was amplified by a second, incidental kind of aerial theatre, performed as part of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) exercises and air raid precautions (ARP) drills in the form of mock air raids on British cities. These attracted curious and even excited audiences, conscious that they might be seeing previews of their own deaths. In combining spectre and spectacle, the RAF’s mock air raids underscore the ambivalent nature of airmindedness in interwar Britain.

You can read a bit more about what's in the chapter, or you can just go ahead and read the whole thing.

Image source: Bystander, 17 August 1938, 277.

William Le Queux, The Zeppelin Destroyer (1916)

A few years back, my article 'William Le Queux, the Zeppelin menace and the Invisible Hand' was published in Critical Survey, with the following abstract:

In contrast to William Le Queux's pre-1914 novels about German spies and invasion, his wartime writing is much less well known. Analysis of a number of his works, predominantly non-fictional, written between 1914 and 1918 shows that he modified his perception of the threat posed by Germany in two ways. Firstly, because of the lack of a German naval invasion, he began to emphasise the more plausible danger of aerial attack. Secondly, because of the incompetent handling of the British war effort, he began to believe that an 'Invisible Hand' was responsible, consisting primarily of naturalised Germans. Switching form from fiction to non-fiction made his writing more persuasive, but he was not able to sustain this and he ended the war with less influence than he began it.

Now you can read the green open access version, which can be downloaded for free from here. Or you can simply enjoy the above cover of Le Queux's 1916 novel The Zeppelin Destroyer.

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Postcard, 1916

While you're waiting for me to write Home Fires Burning, here are some other books (mostly) on the same topic, whether wholly or in substantial part. This is not meant to be in any way a comprehensive list; it's merely what I have found to be most useful. I've included links to out-of-copyright/open access versions, where available.

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Graphic, 15 May 1915, 609

So I'm writing a book. Why? There are already many histories of the German air raids on Britain in the First World War: in my proposal, I listed eleven published since the 1980s alone, and even that is hardly exhaustive. Many of these are excellent -- Ian Castle's books, in particular, are required reading on this topic -- and I would not add to the pile unless I felt I could add something original. So what will make Home Fires Burning different? Why should anyone want to read it? Here's the (lightly-edited) rationale I gave in my proposal:

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Graphic, 24 April 1915, 518

I am delighted to announce that I have signed an advance contract with Cambridge University Press1 to publish my next book, currently entitled Home Fires Burning: Emotion, Spectacle, and Britain’s First War from the Air, in their Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare series. Here's a one paragraph teaser from the (successful!) book proposal:

Home Fires Burning is the first book to provide a broader understanding of the German air raids on Britain between 1914 and 1918—the first to go beyond the purely physical impact of the bombs to show how the spectacle they created and the emotions they invoked shaped British culture and society. It describes not only what happened during the air raids, but also what happened before them, and after, how they were anticipated and how they were remembered. And it will explain how bombing transformed Britain from a place of peace to a place of war: a home front in a total war.

So Home Fires Burning will be both a logical extension of my previous work, and something quite original (and, I think, very necessary!) I'm busy completing the manuscript, and I'll have much more to say here about my plans and progress over the next couple of years. There's a lot to do; I'd better get on with it!

Image source: Graphic (London), 24 April 1915, 518.

  1. Founded in 1534. Just sayin'…[]

I have a short, non-peer-reviewed article about Trove bots coming out in History Australia as part of a special issue on Trove; the advanced access version has just been published. Here's the abstract:

Like many other historians I use Trove for both targeted searches and exploratory ones, which in itself has revolutionised my historical research practice. However, I have recently been exploring the potential of Tim Sherratt’s concept of ’Trove bots’ – Twitter bots which tweet links to random Trove Newspaper articles – as, in effect, automated research assistants, as well as public engagement tools. Here, I will discuss how I have been using one such bot, @TroveAirRaidBot, in my current writing project, and its limitations and hopefully its potential.

It was an interesting piece to write: partly trying to make a case for experimenting with Trove bots for their curiosity and engagement value, but more reflecting on how useful their directed serendipity can be for serious research too. Also, it amuses me to have a formal publication with a Twitter handle in the title!

It's currently available for free, but I'm not sure how long that will last. In any case, the green open access version is here.

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Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber (eds), Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain

I've got a chapter entitled 'Spectre and spectacle: mock air raids as aerial theatre in interwar Britain' in a new Palgrave Macmillan collection just out, Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain, edited by Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber. Here's the abstract:

This chapter argues that aerial theatre, in the form of annual air displays at Hendon and on Empire Air Day, was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to generate a sensationally modern image of technological sublimity through violent spectacles of aerial warfare, including the performance of mock air raids. This was amplified by a second, incidental kind of aerial theatre, performed as part of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) exercises and air raid precautions (ARP) drills in the form of mock air raids on British cities. These attracted curious and even excited audiences, conscious that they might be seeing previews of their own deaths. In combining spectre and spectacle, the RAF’s mock air raids underscore the ambivalent nature of airmindedness in interwar Britain.

It's my third article pushing the aerial theatre concept, and it builds on both of its predecessors ('The militarisation of aerial theatre' and 'The meaning of Hendon'). Here I narrow my focus specifically to mock battles, particularly those portraying air raids on civilian targets. But I also widen things out by drawing a distinction between what I call formal aerial theatre, meaning the sorts of air displays I usually write about such as the RAF Display (Hendon) and Empire Air Day, and incidental aerial theatre, in this case mainly meaning the annual ADGB exercises from 1927 onwards, as well as, beginning in 1936, ARP drills. 'Incidental', because while the point of these exercises was to determine the effectiveness of air and civil defences, they also involved RAF aircraft carrying out simulated attacks on actual urban targets in a very public and spectacular fashion. Those living in and around these targets were exposed to this aerial theatre whether they wanted to be or not. In fact, many people came out to watch these exercises as entertainment: in 1928, for example, 'omnibuses took parties of sightseers to the hills around London' to watch their city get theoretically pounded to rubble. 1 Which I found quite fascinating, and so I wrote a chapter about it!
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  1. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 14 August 1928, 5.[]

On Wednesday, 27 May 2020, I was privileged to give a seminar to the Contemporary Histories Research Group at Deakin University on my aerial theatre research -- via Zoom, as is the current fashion. I really enjoyed giving it, and I think it was a great success (and thanks to everyone who listened in and especially those to took the time to ask questions). Because the seminar pulls together some of the different things I've been working on in some kind of coherent way, I wanted to make it available to a wider audience, and so yesterday I post-tweeted my own seminar. And to make it less (?) ephemeral, now I'm embedding the entire 51-tweet thread here in a blog post. It is of course very much a condensed version of what I said, but it's always surprising how much of the essence gets through in tweet form. (Well, I understand what I'm trying to say, but then I would, wouldn't I?)

The seminar title is 'History from below, looking up: aerial theatre, emotion and modernity'. The abstract is:

In the early 20th century, the aeroplane was the symbol of modernity par excellence. Technological change is an essential part of this sense of modernity, and few technological changes have been as dramatic or as unmistakable as the conquest of the air. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, flying was the object of intense popular fascination, and yet few people actually flew themselves, even as passengers, before the tremendous expansion of aviation during and after the Second World War. Even so, their experience of flight was often intensely exciting, since one of the most common ways to encounter flight was through seeing it, as an aviation spectacle in the form of aerial theatre such as air displays and air races. People flocked to aerodromes in their cumulative millions to watch aircraft in flight, performing aerobatics or fighting mock battles. This was a mass form of popular culture, which explicitly and implicitly made claims about the present and -- even more so -- future ability of technology to change the world, for better or for worse. In this talk I will sketch out an emotional history of aerial theatre, focusing on how it helped to construct popular ideas about modernity, primarily in Britain and Australia.

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Australia is currently experiencing a bushfire season of unprecedented extent and intensity. (See Bodie Ashton's viral thread for some idea of the scale, bearing in mind that it was written a few days ago. Above is a satellite image from 3 January 2020 of the eastern part of Victoria and south-eastern NSW; Melbourne itself is so far largely unaffected, apart from some smoke haze.) Our firefighters -- extraordinarily, nearly all volunteers -- need support, and I'm contributing to that by taking part in the Twitter campaign #AuthorsForFireys. Reply to the following tweet (you do need to be on Twitter for this) with your proposed donation to the Country Fire Authority, the main Victorian firefighting organisation, and if yours is the highest I'll give you a copy of the hardcover edition of my book. It would currently cost you AUD252 if you ordered direct from the publisher, so this is a chance to get it at a much more reasonable price while helping a good cause.

The rules are here -- the link for donations is here. International donors are welcome (I'll cover the postage to anywhere in the world), though that might be hard as unfortunately the CFA doesn't seem to have any way to donate online, only through bank transfers/cheques/money orders. If that's a problem, get in touch and we'll work something out.
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Critical Survey has just published an early access version of my peer-reviewed article 'William Le Queux, the Zeppelin menace and the Invisible Hand' -- that's right, no subtitle! -- here. Here's the abstract:

In contrast to William Le Queux's pre-1914 novels about German spies and invasion, his wartime writing is much less well known. Analysis of a number of his works, predominantly non-fictional, written between 1914 and 1918 shows that he modified his perception of the threat posed by Germany in two ways. Firstly, because of the lack of a German naval invasion, he began to emphasise the more plausible danger of aerial attack. Secondly, because of the incompetent handling of the British war effort, he began to believe that an 'Invisible Hand' was responsible, consisting primarily of naturalised Germans. Switching form from fiction to non-fiction made his writing more persuasive, but he was not able to sustain this and he ended the war with less influence than he began it.

Unfortunately the publishing agreement doesn't allow me to upload a green open access version of the article for 24 months, but it's based on a post I wrote here a few years ago about Le Queux's wartime spyhunting in Soho and Surrey, so you can get a flavour by reading that. The expanded version includes more of Le Queux's conspiracy theorising, placing it in the context of his wartime literary output and the evolution of 'Hidden Hand' conspiracy theories on the British far right in the First World War.
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