Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

Denise Phillips

Committee Members

Vejas Liulevicius, Monica Black, Maria Stehle

Abstract

This dissertation examines aviation’s influence on German cultural and social history between 1908 and 1925. Before the First World War, aviation embodied one of many new features of a rapidly modernizing Germany. In response, Germans viewed flight as either a potentially transformative tool or a possible weapon of war. The outbreak of war in 1914 moved aviation away from its promised potential to its lived reality. In doing so, the airplane became a machine which compressed time and space, reordered the spatial arrangement of the battlefield, and transformed the human relationship with killing. Germany’s fliers initially served as observers, noting troop positions in the war’s opening weeks. As the Western Front transformed into static trench warfare, flight, in concert with photography, became a method of gathering intelligence. The camera also shaped the identity and iconography of the aviator both in public and in private photographs. Aviation created a privileged space for combat pilots to engage with, or ignore, the consequences of killing as aerial violence became commonplace. Killing, death, and superstition in the air were repackaged with older cultural tropes to render new violence knowable. The German general staff too, became increasingly obsessed with killing in the air, and this fascination fed a new system for understanding the air war. Germany’s regional divisions were also reflected in aviation and directly influenced both the composition of its air service and the machines issued to its pilots. Aviators were again privileged in their use of cultural markers to signpost individual, local, and national identities. The end of the war, however, shattered previous perceptions of war time, and left living aviators to struggle to make sense of a new present, while the nation’s lost fliers were repurposed for contradictory social and political ends.

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