Sam Robinson is currently working on military oceanography in Western Europe during the Cold War, centring on Britain and focusing on the growth, development and ultimate collapse of the committees that came to define the relationship between oceanographers and their military patrons from 1955-1975. Sam’s research will study the concurrent developments of Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) and oceanographic research in strategic environments such as the North East Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, placing science and surveillance in a transnational history.
In Britain, the relationship between oceanographer and the military commenced with work on anti-submarine warfare during World War II. In the postwar period, despite various financial constraints, British oceanographers were able to establish their own research institution which was largely free of government control. Whilst this might have heralded a shift towards ‘peaceful’ science independent of the military and government regime, British oceanographers under George Deacon continued to carry out research with strategic rationales. Eventually, this led to the forming of various collaborative committees such as the NATO sub-committee on Oceanography and independent committees such as the Anglo-French Sub-Committee for Military Oceanography , the Anglo-German sub-group on oceanography and meteorology, the Anglo-Swedish collaboration on Naval Research and Development, Canadian/UK/US collaboration on research and development, Technical Sub-Group G on Undersea Warfare and Anglo/American/Norwegian collaboration on underwater research. These committees worked independently of one another, existing and operating behind closed doors, whilst individual these countries worked together openly on international projects. One example of this is the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) ‘Overflow’ expedition of 1960 which took place in the UK-Iceland gap in the North Atlantic; an area of immense geopolitical and geostrategic sensitivity. By the early 1970s, these ‘secret’ committees started to disband as the ties between oceanographers and the military lost the urgency brought by the geopolitical tensions that had been pressing at the end of the 1950s. Over the period of study, military and government strategists, in collaboration with oceanographers, brought about the surveillance of the North Atlantic Ocean with the capability to track soviet submarine movements. This level of surveillance was only achieved by both parties working together, and as such, understandings of the dynamics of this relationship are fundamental to a comprehension of how surveillance of the seas became an operational reality, without in itself seeming to necessitate the escalation of tensions.
In his master dissertation, Sam studied the response of the public to the changing construction of collective identity within the British scientific community, as a result of the onset of ‘professionalization’ in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Using the satirical magazine ‘Punch’, Sam aimed to show that the caricatures contained within ‘Punch’ present another way of looking at the ‘professionalization’ of science, visually displaying the circumstances, conduct and consequences of professionalization on the British scientific community. The caricatures provide a unique perspective on how these changes were perceived by the public, and how this altered perceptions of ‘men of science’ to those outside the scientific community.