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Some Sketches on Vertical Geographies


I’ve long thought that conventional understandings of geography were a little too “horizontal”. That geographical concepts such as production, uneven development, territory, scale, geopolitics and the like tended to be theorized on an assumed horizontal plane of human existence makes sense, because the vast majority of human activity does more-or-less conform to the relatively narrow vertical band on the earth’s surface that can support human life. But human infrastructures and activities also inhabit a vertical axis, from deep sea mining and undersea cables to outer, and even arguably interstellar, space. As others have observed, different topologies of development, politics, urbanism, and the production of space emerge when we begin to consider the vertical dimensions of human world-making.

What follows are some sketches of case-studies from my own work that have been personally helpful in considering what a theory of vertical geography might encompass. There is nothing comprehensive here, nor anything actually theorized at all. These are simply some examples of things I think about.

More than 99% of the world’s data travels through fiberoptic cables draped across the ocean floor. Undersea cable encircle the globe at depths of 20,000ft (6,000m), connecting continents and providing the backbone of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

After an aborted attempt in 1857, the first undersea cable connecting North America to the UK was laid in 1858 when the warships Niagra and Agamemnon met in the middle of the Atlantic to splice the two ends of the telegraph cable they had lain from their respective ports. The first transcontinental conversation (which took a day to conduct) was the following:

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