Serving Science and Empire
Aerial Photography, Scientists and Soldiers in French Colonies (1918–1940)

In this article, Reubi examines aerial photography’s success in the humanities in France during the interwar years. It reveals that this success mainly occurred in the colonial territories and that its practices owed much to close collaboration with the Air Force. The author first outlines the strategies of redeployment of war material in the colonies and discusses the Air Force’s colonial policies and their benefits for scientists. Second, he explains how scientists were useful to the military given the Air Force’s limited activity in the colonies. The military-scientific collaboration provided training grounds for both aerial photography and bombing and produced results that were strategically useful to both actors. In the third part of the paper, the author looks into the silencing processes aerial photography generated, showing that it reduced to silence those it focused on: those who are colonial subjects and objects to be studied.

Photographie aérienne de la ville de Đồng Hới prise par l’Aéronautique militaire d’Indochine, circa 1930, tirage argentique. Université libre de Bruxelles (fonds Pierre Gourou).

Serge Reubi is an associate professor at the National Museum of Natural History and the Alexandre Koyré Centre, both in Paris, and an associate researcher at the Marc Bloch Centre in Berlin. He has worked at the universities of Basel and Neuchâtel and has been associated with the University of Cambridge and the Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science. His recent publications bear on the history of aerial photography, the history of the humanities and the history of scientific and museum collections.

Citation: Serge Reubi, « Servir les sciences et l’empire. La photographie aérienne, les scientifiques et les militaires dans les espaces coloniaux français (1918-1940) », Transbordeur. Photographie histoire société, no. 6, 2022, pp. 18-27.

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