Bomb Sight

Another pre-script…. Last week I noted two projects that aimed to bring drone strikes to your smart phone, but here’s one that promises to do the same for the London Blitz.  Developed by researchers at the University of Portsmouth led by Kate Jones, in conjunction with the National Archives, and working from the official wartime Bomb Census, Bomb Sight uses web and mobile mapping technology to ‘bring to life [sic] the maps that demarcate the location of [31,000] falling bombs during the London Blitz between October 1940 and June 1941.’  It’s a truly remarkable project that intends to link the sites on the map to photographs, eye-witness accounts and memories.

The project is being developed for the Android platform but there is apparently the future possibility of porting to the iPhone – assuming that Apple doesn’t find this as objectionable as it did Josh Begley‘s Drones+ app (I’m betting it won’t).

The blog recording the development of Bomb Sight includes some screen shots – I’ve pasted some below – showing detailed maps and augmented reality views that give more insight into the intended outcome.

Unlike attempts to plot drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, the Bomb Census Survey maps produced by the Ministry of Home Security make it possible to identify locations with great (though sometimes variable) precision – a capacity that was of course unavailable to those dropping the bombs in the first place – and there is a rich vein of images and testimony to tap into too.

It’s that prospect of multi-media linkage that makes this such a brilliant project.  There have been other attempts to map the Blitz; the Guardian produced this remarkable map of the ‘incidents’ to which the London Fire Brigade responded on the first night of the Blitz, 7 September 1940, for example, and made available an online interactive so that the toll could be followed hour by hideous hour:

You need to ‘grow’ the markers on the map; the Guardian noted that each ‘incident’ typically involved multiple bombs.  But even more telling is the word itself: ‘incident’.  For, as John Strachey noted in his memoir of his time as an Air Raid Warden, it’s a bureaucratic, bloodless term:

In contrast, what Bomb Sight promises to do is not only to disaggregate each ‘incident’ to show every bomb dropped but, still more importantly, to deconstruct the very term itself: to link the bomb scatter to imagery and testimony and so give the lie to these bloodless abstractions.

Perhaps if something similar could be done for other cities around the world more people would be enraged at the continued recourse to bombing from the air as a legitimate political and military practice, and the politics of  ‘banning the bomb’ might be transformed into a more general demand to ban all bombs.

If you want to see more of Bomb Sight, there’s a very good video up at YouTube: