The Aerial View: Notes for a Cultural History

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This paper argues that a cultural history of the aerial view that is adequate to the complexities of the topic has yet to be written. It suggests that insufficient attention has hitherto been given to how the topic has been defined, and illustrates this in relation to phylo-genetic accounts of the development of human vision per se and to technologies such as microscopy. The paper attempts to indicate what an alternative itinerary for a history of the aerial view might look like, and puts forward three analytical categories: the oblique image; the vertical image; and the diagram. It argues for a renewed attention to the specific modalities of different kinds of historical aerial vision, in opposition to schematic overarching accounts, and this is illustrated by a brief critique of Michel de Certeau’s influential discussion of the World Trade Center in The Practice of Everyday Life. The essay concludes by examining the curious case of the diagram, a form of representation that appears to give us an aerial image while at the same time disqualifying any singular viewpoint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-118
Number of pages14
JournalSTRATES: Matériaux pour la recherche en sciences sociales
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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