Immersive terrain: the US Navy, Sealab and Cold War undersea geopolitics

I’ve just seen that my paper on ‘Immersive terrain’ is now online over at Area. The link is here and the abstract is below. It’s based on a paper I presented at last year’s AAG conference so it’s great to see it as an article. It was also a really helpful reviewing process that has given me lots to think moving forward with my PhD.


Like territory, terrain is a term that has been tied to its etymological roots on terra. This paper seeks to release terrain as both concept and practice from the terrestrial through an analysis of the Cold War-era case study, Sealab II. This little-studied project, led by the US Navy, sought to establish the feasibility of sustaining life under the sea and in doing so, provides a rich site of analysis through which to explore the notion of terrain that exists in volume, rather than simply on the earth’s crust. Within this immersive voluminous framework, the function of the body is also re-examined as both a site that experiences terrain, but also one that became a terrain of sorts during the Sealab experiments. The paper concludes by suggesting that understandings of terrain within geographical scholarship would be enriched were they to push off from the earth’s surfaces and argues that there is a need to re-think terrain’s relational aspects, re-root it from terra and re-orientate it towards the body.

FILE--Diver Berry Cannon is shown inside Sealab in this U.S. Navy handout photo taken on Sept. 5, 1965. In the 1960s, the Navy sent teams of divers to live for weeks on the ocean floor in a small habitat known as SeaLab. It was a daring series of experiments, an effort that paralleled the nation's push to get a man on the moon, at a fraction of the cost and with little of the glamour. Cannon died trying to enter the habitat as he went down wearing equipment that did not have the chemical needed to remove carbon dioxide. SeaLab effectively ended with Cannon's death. (AP Photo/San Diego Union-Tribune/U.S. Navy)

Rachael Squire


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