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Understanding the Air Age: Extracting a Culture of Aviation (June 2013): Collected Volumes

By Guillaume de Syon

Collected Volumes

A common approach to a diversified topic involves the publication of collected essays, and over the past two decades, several such volumes have appeared that fit directly into this category.

The Genesis of Flight: The Aeronautical History Collection of Colonel Richard Gimbel, which relies extensively on curators’ comments and narratives, offers a helpful canvas of early air-mindedness, though it does ignore any element not reflected in the gathered artifacts.  The 1998 National Aerospace Conference: The Meaning of Flight in the 20th Century, the proceedings of a conference held at Wright State University, also contains valuable summaries of cultural historical research into aviation, some of which have since appeared elsewhere.

In the two-volume series on air transportation, From Airships to Airbus: The History of Civil and Commercial Aviation, coeditors William Leary and William Trimble collected contributions from a conference and turned them into a cohesive, if eclectic, assemblage that acknowledges in several essays the cultural dimension of aviation.  The edited collection by Peter Galison and Alex Roland, Atmospheric Flight in the Twentieth Century, on the other hand, takes a narrower view of culture by publishing contributions that consider only what affected engineers and designers directly associated with aeronautics.  Roger Launius does incorporate cultural elements into his edited volume Innovation and the Development of Flight.

Flight: A Celebration of 100 Years in Art and Literature, edited by Anne Collins Goodyear, devotes one quarter of all contributions to considerations of flight and culture.  Goodyear, assistant curator of prints and drawings at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, also provides a valuable survey of art and aviation in this volume.  In a similar vein, Dominick A. Pisano’s edited collection (inspired directly by a similar volume on the automobile), The Airplane in American Culture, assembles four sets of articles designed to understand different realms of culture, from perception and gender and race to art and literature, and culminating with the culture of war.

Finally, Virginia P. Dawson and Mark D. Bowles’s collection, Realizing the Dream of Flight: Biographical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of Flight, 1903-2003, emphasizes individuals as a means to suggest the diversity of prisms through which one can view flight.  In aspects such as gender, race, business, politics, and nuclear strategy, the actions of certain historical figures contributed to defining the public perception of aviation.  As with all collected essays, the ones cited here, though generally excellent, may contain some pieces of lesser quality, but the effort of the editors to bring about a discussion of aviation and society is what must be acknowledged.