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Understanding the Air Age: Extracting a Culture of Aviation (June 2013): And the International One

By Guillaume de Syon

And the International One

Though studies of aviation within its national contexts are likely to continue, existing ones have prompted critics to wonder about comparative, international, and transnational studies of the phenomenon.  Some writers have de facto incorporated separate cultural and national experiences into their narratives.  Robert Wohl wrote two such volumes on the subject: A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908-1918 and The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950.  Together, these wonderful books weave literature and art as well as the flight experience across the skies, though they are squarely grounded in France, with occasional discussions of Italian culture.  Guillaume de Syon’s investigation of the German airship obsession, Zeppelin! Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939, takes forays into Austria and Switzerland to examine why German-speaking populations there did not appreciate the airship in the same way.  A similar volume, though emphasizing politics, is John Duggan and Henry Cord Meyer’s Airships in International Affairs, 1890-1940, which stresses the value and shortcomings of big technology in diplomacy.

Another approach, that of linking aviation into the wider context of modern technology, is the one that Bernhard Rieger has chosen in Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany, 1890-1945.  Rieger discusses airplanes alongside ships and movies to qualify the obsession, and cultural appropriations Britons and Germans made of these new attributes of modernity.

Moving beyond defined geographical boundaries, several scholars have sought to paint a wider canvas to help understand aviation’s place in society.  Marc Dierikx, for example, offers an excellent synthesis of the development of commercial flight with reference to its cultural implications in Clipping the Clouds: How Air Travel Changed the World.  This book offers a very good starting point for anyone interested in commercial aviation, as the author masterfully weaves business, social, and cultural strands that had an effect on the industry.  A different kind of broad sociocultural survey appears in David Pascoe’s Aircraft, which picks up on Le Corbusier’s study by the same name but charts the evolution of airplane shapes and influences into the present.  Specialists may frown at some of his claims, yet this is a very intriguing summary of the complex evolution of aviation.