Telegraph and Modern War

Derek Gregory has a fantastic post on the role of the telegraph in modern war over at his Geographical Imaginations blog. In a post called ‘Bodies on the wire’, he points to a bunch of new ideas he wants to follow up on. They revolve around the historical role of war media and, specifically the place of the telegraph in the communication of the Crimean War. He also notes Jan Mieszkowski‘s argument that…

 one of the crucial dilemmas of modern war is the disconnect between the participant’s sensory disorientation (‘To be under fire is to experience the loss of control of one’s own signifying practices’) and the abstraction (or ‘perspective’) of distant observers.

When I relate this to the use of digital (mapping) technologies during protest, I’m interested to see whether we can apply the same sort of thinking. It seems to me that this dis/orientation is a notable continuum; and that often, an intimacy with modern technology (in the way of touch-gestures on a mobile device) leads to a difficulty in maintaining a kind of abstraction or perspective of the distant observer. A tactile primacy, I guess. But of course, the kinds of moves made on a mobile device are in some way creating these abstractions too – straight from the heart of the action.


2 thoughts on “Telegraph and Modern War

  1. Great to hear your comments and compliments Derek. No doubt this shift to an event ontology has been matched methodologically too. Anticipation, orientation and navigation are the dynamics at work here, and researchers are beginning to draw upon a new vocabulary and a new set of tools with which to interrogate these forms. Any kind of militarized action seems to deploy these logics, and protest events are no different in that respect. I look forward to seeing some of the fruits of your recent labour, and will endeavour to keep in touch. In fact, if you’re speaking on ‘deadly embrace’ in Nottingham in December I might be able to make a trip down. Thanks again!

  2. Thanks so much for this – you have a really interesting project and it will be good to keep in touch! Our interests intersect in all sorts of ways – I’m still revising a conference paper I gave earlier this year on Tahrir Square that, inevitably, considers new social media and digital mapping, but I’m also interested in how modern war has involved a slow shift from an object ontology to an event ontology: from military objectives as more or less fixed objects whose co-ordinates can eventually be fixed too (places, gun batteries, air fields) to events, where military action responds to or anticipates moving targets. Here digital mapping is indispensable (I tried to think about this in a paper called “Seeing Red”), but I can now see that the basic ideas precede the technology: hence the importance of photomosaics in WWI, updated every day (and sometimes more often) trying to register the movement of enemy forces. Trench warfare wasn’t quite as static as it’s been made out. This will form part of a new presentation, “Gabriel’s map”, and I’ll try to post some more about it on the blog when I get a moment.

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