The British Interplanetary Society and cultures of outer space, 1930-1970
Dunnett, Oliver (2011) The British Interplanetary Society and cultures of outer space, 1930-1970. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.
This thesis explores the institutional and cultural development of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) and its influence in wider cultures of ‘British outer space’ in the mid-twentieth century. The Society was founded in 1933 in Liverpool by P E Cleator, and having attracted a small group of enthusiastic members before the outbreak of the Second World War, successfully re-grouped after the conflict and grew to become one of the most influential of all the space flight societies by the 1960s. The thesis starts by examining the ways in which the discipline of geography has recently started to re-engage with outer space as a field of enquiry, and suggests that geopolitical and cultural approaches to studying outer space would be a productive academic pursuit. The empirical chapters start by looking at the institutional cultures of the BIS, and explore the relationship between the Society and the production of interplanetary knowledge. The Society’s global connections and internationalist stance are also brought into focus, with contrasting accounts identified before and after the war raising questions about the geopolitics of British outer space. The empirical chapters go on to study how the BIS became connected to the wider world of popular culture in Britain, examining imaginative and amateur representations and performances. This section includes analyses of certain science fiction texts, including the selected novels of Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C Clarke and C S Lewis, and also considers Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare space adventure comics and the long-running television series The Sky at Night, whilst maintaining an empirical connection to the BIS throughout. The thesis closes with a discussion of what it means to bring together materials from both institutional and popular cultures, in the context of the emerging research area of the geographies of outer space.
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