A Cultural-Historical Geography of Camouflage

Research Paper Title

From Dazzle to the Desert: A Cultural-Historical Geography of Camouflage.


This thesis approaches the cultures and geographies of military conflict, charting the history of military camouflage through a multi-faceted biography of this technology’s life-path.

By studying the scientific biography of Dr Hugh Cott (1900-1987), eminent zoologist and skilful artist turned camoufleur in WWII, entwined with the fragmentary mobile biographies of other camouflage practitioners, including artists, animals and even a magician, the sites and spacings of camouflage’s life-path from the late-nineteenth century into the Desert War are traced.

The military’s enrolment of diverse outside specialists practised in visual literacy is examined to reveal that technological development led to transformations, not only in military knowledge, but also in the militarism of knowledges such as science and art.

Moving through the scientists’ field-site, the committee boardroom, the military training site and the soldiers’ battlefield, this thesis uncovers the history of a most ambiguous military invention, exposing its darker patterning and thus subverting a long-dominant narrative of camouflage as solely a protective technology.

Furthermore, this camouflage biography is narrated from the perspective of the technology’s inventors and practitioners as a means to encounter the situated and also embodied nature of technological innovation in military conflict.

It demonstrates that, as camouflage transformed battlefields into unsettling theatres of war, there were lasting consequences not only for knowledge and technology, but also for both the ethics of battle and the individuals enrolled in this process.

Overall, this geographically structured biography explores how camouflage is a jarring technology, combining aesthetic and artistic appreciation with complex scientific theory, to guileful and deadly effect.


Forsyth, I.M. (2012) From Dazzle to the Desert: A Cultural-Historical Geography of Camouflage. Doctoral Thesis. University of Glasgow.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.