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A Media Archaeology of Drones: Television in the Army, 1930s-1940s

English title A Media Archaeology of Drones: Television in the Army, 1930s-1940s
Applicant Weber Anne-Katrin
Number 174743
Funding scheme Early Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digit Universite du Luxembourg
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Theatre and Cinema
Start/End 01.02.2018 - 31.12.2019
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All Disciplines (4)

Theatre and Cinema
Social geography and ecology
Communication sciences
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (5)

Media Studies; War Studies; Drones; Television History; Radio Corporation of America

Lay Summary (French)

Avant que la télévision ne prenne son essor comme « fenêtre sur le monde » dans les années 1950, les technologies télévisuelles sont employées à des fins militaires sur les champs de bataille. En étudiant les premières expériences de bombes téléguidées, d’avions automatisés, et d'autres armes « télévisuelles » aux États-Unis, le projet « A Media Archaeology of Drones: Television in the Army, 1930-40s » retrace l’histoire de ces "unmanned aerial vehicles" et revient sur les différentes fonctions de la télévision durant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale.
Lay summary

Contenu et objectifs du projet

Dans l’histoire de la télévision, la Deuxième Guerre mondiale représente souvent une période ignorée qui s’inscrit entre les premiers essais expérimentaux menés autour de la télévision durant les années 1920 et 1930, et l’avènement de la télévision comme mass media dans l’après-guerre.

En étudiant les années de guerre trop fréquemment négligées dans l’historiographe, « A Media Archaeology of Drones » cherche à repenser l’histoire de la télévision états-unienne à la lumière de l’histoire militaire et à comprendre les liens scientifiques, technologiques, et épistémologiques entre la télévision domestique et la télévision « guerrière ».

Contexte scientifique et social du projet

Alors que l’utilisation de plus en plus massive des drones pour la guerre contemporaine a reçu une attention considérable, leur histoire, qui remonte aux années 1930 déjà, reste largement inconnue. Fondée notamment sur les sources écrites et audiovisuelles issues des archives de la Radio Corporation of America, la RCA, cette recherche s’inscrit dans les débats actuels sur les drones, et mène une réflexion plus large sur le rôle des technologies médiatiques en temps de guerre. 


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.12.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Edito: Le dispositif du drone
WeberAnne-Katrin (2019), Edito: Le dispositif du drone, in A Contrario, (29), 3-24.
’L’œil électrique de la bombe volante’: pistes pour une histoire du drone à partir de l’histoire télévisuelle
Weber Anne-Katrin (2019), ’L’œil électrique de la bombe volante’: pistes pour une histoire du drone à partir de l’histoire télévisuelle, in A Contrario. Revue interdisciplinaire de sciences sociales, (29), 81-98.
La guerre des drones
Weber Anne-Katrin (ed.) (2019), La guerre des drones, BSN Press, Lausanne.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Rethinking Digital Myths. Mediation, Narratives and Mythopoeisis in the Digital Age Talk given at a conference Humanless Technology and Surgical War? A Media Archaeological Perspective on Drone Myths 25.01.2020 Lugano, Switzerland Weber Anne-Katrin;
Tensions of Europe: Decoding Europe- Technological Pasts in the Digital Age Talk given at a conference Command and Control by Cathode Ray Tube 27.06.2019 Belval, Luxembourg Weber Anne-Katrin;
Keynote MIT Comparative Media Studies / Writing Individual talk Between Participation and Control: A long History of CCTV 26.04.2019 Cambridge, United States of America Weber Anne-Katrin;


Title Date Place
Workshop "La guerre des drones" 08.03.2019 Lausanne, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Intervention dans un cours de Master, UNIL "De « militaire » à « industrielle » : une histoire longe de la télévision en circuit fermé" Talk 02.12.2019 Lausanne, Switzerland Weber Anne-Katrin;

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) International 2021

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
178495 The Mayor, the Cow, and the Glass of Wine. 100 Years of Comptoir Suisse in Lausanne. Doing History in the Digital Age 01.09.2018 Agora


My research project aims at unearthing the military uses of television during World War II and at resituating the developed devices and implied actors within the media’s broader historiography. It pursues therefore the double goal of reflecting upon the first experiences of tele-guided planes and bombs from a media historical perspective, and of contextualizing these developments in relation to industrial research on consumer electronics. Providing historically informed research on the “pre-history” of drones, my project finally ambitions to intervene in contemporary debates on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) conducted in- and outside academia. Although prominent thinkers like Paul Virilio and Friedrich Kittler have underscored the historical and epistemological links between war and media, media scholars seldom paid close attention to the military as an actor in media history (Virilio 1989; Kittler 2010). This observation is particularly true for Television Studies: in television historiography, the years between 1939 and 1945 remain a black hole figuring as an unexplored parenthesis in historiographical accounts. Investigating the forgotten war-years, my project fills in a gap in historical knowledge and seeks to reconsider historiographical narratives on domestic television in the light of the media’s applications in wartime. I aim to make visible the transfer of scientific knowledge, engineering practices, and new technologies from commercial televisual research to the military domain, and back. To do so, I focus on the American leader in civilian and military television research, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). From the mid-1930s on, RCA prepared to launch a national broadcast service while simultaneously producing lightweight close-circuit TV devices installed on military vehicles. Involved in numerous war-related projects by the Navy and the Army, RCA developed televisual equipment for target and assault drones, as well as gliding bombs: at RCA, television as a means of mass communication and of mass destruction originated in the same labs. Excavating these activities and their links with commercial work conducted in the corporation’s laboratories during the 1930s and 1940s, I seek to highlight the historical inextricability of civilian and military media technologies and uses.The methodological framework for my project is nourished by a media archaeological approach, understood as a way to renew historiographical methods and to “read against the grain” of established historical narratives (Parikka 2012). Attentive to forgotten, obsolete or repressed media forms, and underlining the interdependencies of discursive and material histories, the media archaeological perspective continually draws upon the contemporary moment to investigate the past, overlapping temporalities in order to create new historiographic narratives (Zielinksi 2006; Elsaesser 2016). Such a “multi-temporality” is crucial to understand the history of military television, where the dynamics of war-related production in the early 1940s converge with the rhythm of industrial research on consumer electronics, the hopes and resistances encountered by the introduction of television in the living room, as well as with biopolitics and colonial modalities of warfare at the present moment. The results of this project will be made accessible to the scientific community through the publication of papers in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, I intend to design a collaborative Digital History project in form of a multi-media website nourishing the debate on a most topical issue of our contemporary society.