22 October 2021 — 12:00 noon — online

Felipe Fernandes Cruz (Tulane University)

“Hacking Airspace: The Insurgent Technology of Brazil’s Hot Air Balloons”

Brazil has a long tradition of launching hot air balloons at Catholic festivals—but in the mid twentieth century, these balloons became a secular art form beyond saints’ days. As the secular practice grew, balloonists created increasingly larger aircraft, requiring complex technical expertise. By the 1970s and 1980s, teams were making technically and artistically elaborate balloons up to 105 meters tall and carrying hundreds of kilos of fireworks, banners, or lanterns. These large aircraft came to dominate the busy urban airspace, posing a danger to airliners, and were eventually criminalized, making police raids of balloonists’ workshops a common feature of local news. In crafting large and complex balloons, these balloonists who mostly hail from the margins of Brazilian society, created and formalized their own body of technological expertise—an insurgent technology that exists in conflict with the state and formal technological systems.

Felipe Fernandes Cruz is an assistant professor in the History Department at Tulane University in New Orleans. He earned his PhD in History from UT in 2016 with a dissertation on aeronautics and nation-building on Brazil’s frontiers, which will form the basis of his forthcoming book on the subject. He is also very active in developing tools and methods for the digital humanities.

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