Department of History

B.Z. Kedar, Professor Emeritus of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Aerial Photographs as Historical Sources: The Case of Palestine/Israel"

Event Description

Aerial Photographs as Historical Sources: The Case of Palestine/Israel

An aerial photograph amounts to an objective source about the physical features of the area it covers. Unlike a ground photo that is determined by the photographer’s preferences or manipulations, the aerial photo shows all the details that a camera’s lens recorded mechanically.

A series of aerial photos showing the same locality at different points in time amounts to a reliable, unbiased historical source about the physical changes that have taken place there over the years. Such a series of aerial photos may provide a healthy antidote whenever parties to a conflict are at odds with regard to the nature of recent physical changes.

The state of Ottoman Palestine during the initial stages of Zionist colonization is a highly controversial, emotion-laden issue. According to the prevalent Israeli narrative, the country was a desolate tract of marshes, sand and boulders that the Zionist pioneers caused to flourish, whereas according to the narrative common among Palestinians it was a flourishing country before the Zionists destroyed the villages and towns of its native inhabitants.

This is why I decided to present about 70 aerial photos of Palestinian localities, shot in the closing years of World War I by German, British and Australian aviators. These photos amount to objective evidence about the state of these localities at the end of the Ottoman period.

In addition, I constructed series of aerial photos that show these 70 localities also in about 1948, in about 1967, and in the 1990s. These series may help Israelis and Palestinians to better cope with, understand and come to terms with their  recent history, now so befogged by selective, self-righteous and often inflammatory “narratives.”  Perhaps they may also help men and women on each side to evolve some empathy with, or at least a more fair understanding of, the other side in the conflict – and to show more consideration for the land in their custody. 

This event is co-sponsored by Jewish Studies.   

Further reading:
Benjamin Z. Kedar, The Changing Land between the Jordan and the Sea: Aerial photographs from 1917 to the Present. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1999.   


Wednesday, March 6, 2019


1:00pm to 2:30pm

Location and Address

History Department Lounge
3702 Posvar Hall
University of Pittsburgh

Event Series