CAREN KAPLAN /// Before the Drone: Genealogy of Aerial Imagery and its Militarization


This conversation with Caren Kaplan introduces the work she has been conducting for her forthcoming book dedicated to a genealogy of aerial photography (and painting) and its militarization leading to the ‘age of the drone’ we currently experience. We begin with the development of the balloon, the progressive learning necessary to understand this new point of view on the world and the simultaneous success of panorama paintings. We then evoke the creation of the British Board of Ordinance and its survey of Scotland as part of the counter-insurrectionist effort to control the terrain against the Jacobites. We conclude the discussion in the first part of the 20th century and the importance of aerial reconnaissance and the analysis of aerial photographs and the importance of individual affect in this process. This conversation is likely to have a second chapter in July about more contemporary cases of military aerial imagery.

Caren Kaplan is Professor of American Studies at the University of California at Davis. She is the author of Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Duke 1996) as well as two digital multi-media scholarly works, Dead Reckoning (2007), and Precision Targets (2010) . She has collaborated on several projects with Inderpal Grewal including Introduction to Women’s StudiesGender in a Transnational World (McGraw-Hill 2001/2005) and Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minnesota 1994). Her current work focuses on aerial views and militarized visual culture.




– Caren Kaplan, “Airpower’s Visual Legacy: Operation Orchard and Aerial Reconnaissance Imagery as Ruses de Guerre,” Critical Military Studies 1:1 (2014): 1-18.
– Caren Kaplan, “Desert Wars: Virilio and the Limits of  ‘Genuine Knowledge'” in John Armitage and Ryan Bishop (eds), Virilio and Visual Culture, Edinburgh University Press, 2012, 69-85.
– Caren Kaplan, “‘A Rare and Chilling View’: Aerial Photography as Biopower in the Visual Culture of  ‘9/11,'” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 11:2 (2011), launched June 30 at


– Mary A. Favret, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime, Princeton University Press, 2010.

– Mark Neocleous, War Power, Police Power, Edinburgh University press, 2014.

– Vittoria Di Palma, Wasteland: A History, Yale University Press, 2014.

– Peter Adey, Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilites, Affects, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.