SLSA 2009 Presentation on Wells and the Tank


Yufang’s and my wedding may not have been science fictional, but I did take care of some pre-scheduled science fiction business in Atlanta, Georgia during the week after our honeymoon. I went to the annual Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference where I presented a paper on invention/authoring of the tank. Unfortunately, the posthumans, Whiteheadians, and animal studies folk drowned out the military technologies panel–so it goes. To make up for it, I made a point of visiting the da Vinci exhibit at the High Museum of Art, which reminded me that da Vinci had imagined a armored, mobile weapons platform long before Wells’ 1903 short story, “The Land Ironclads.”

Decoding the Origins of the Tank and “The Land Ironclads”: Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton and H. G. Wells

I just sent off my presentation proposal for SLSA 2009, which as the theme “Decodings” and will be in Atlanta, Georgia in November.  Since I’ll be teaching and reading for my PhD exams, I decided to dust off a publishable paper to shorten and present at the conference (assuming it’s accepted).  In the meantime, I think I’m going to send this essay out to a journal over the Summer to see if they are interested in publishing it as it is or with minor revision.  Here’s my abstract to SLSA:

Decoding the Origins of the Tank and “The Land Ironclads”: Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton and H. G. Wells

Jason W. Ellis

The first popular, and widely cited, fictional account of the military tank is H.G. Wells’ 1903 short story, “The Land Ironclads.”  The recognized and widely circulated literary publication, the Strand Magazine published Wells’ short story in 1903–thirteen years before the British tank was unveiled to the world at Flers and Courcelette on 15 September 1916 during the First World War’s Battle of the Somme.  However, Wells was not involved in the actual development of the tank, but many historians point to Major-General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton as the single person most responsible for convincing the British military to design and commit invaluable war time resources to its development and utilization in the Great War.  Interestingly, these two persons–Wells and Swinton–developed a public debate in print and other media, which eventually led to Swinton’s libel suit against Wells, over who was most responsible for the invention of the tank.  It is the purpose of this presentation to highlight their public debate, and uncover how the public reacted to these men’s claims.  From this very public argument it will be possible to decode the meaning of such claims to invention, and the early history of Science Fiction, which was in part buttressed on imaginative futurology.