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Humanities Seminar

Thursday, March 7, 2019
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Oil Under the Sea: Technological Vision and Visual Persuasion across the French Mediterranean
Brian Jacobson, Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies and History, University of Toronto,

In 1958, the French national gas company, hoping to secure access to newly discovered gas reserves in Algeria, began an ultimately failed project to build the first trans-Mediterranean undersea pipeline. Focusing on the advanced imaging technologies used behind the scenes and the industrial photographs that gave the project a public face, this talk highlights the dual role that visual culture played in the science and public discourse of France's early "Hydrocarbon Age." To complete this unprecedented project, Gaz de France needed new forms of technological vision, including cameras and sonar devices developed by MIT engineer Harold Edgerton and deployed by French undersea explorer and film director Jacques-Yves Cousteau. To convince the French public of the project's value and likely success, even at the height of the decolonization struggle, the company relied upon the persuasive power of images in advertising and publicity materials. Together, I will argue, these needs illuminate the epistemological and discursive means through which visual culture helped create and define an oil-powered world in the second half of the twentieth century.

For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at cecilial@caltech.edu.