Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Isla Forsyth on Camoufleur Hugh B. Cott

H.B. Cott illustration, Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940)

We've been fortunate in recent weeks to run across a new, major research document on zoology in relation to military camouflage. Titled From Dazzle to the Desert: A Cultural-Historical Geography of Camouflage, it is a 316-page doctoral dissertation by Isla Forsyth, who completed her PhD earlier this year at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

The study's central figure is a man we've blogged about before—the widely admired British zoologist and military camouflage expert named Hugh B. Cott (1900-1987). He was in addition wonderfully skilled as a scientific photographer and illustrator, and indeed one of the virtues of his authoritative book about animal camouflage, titled Adaptive Coloration in Animals (London: Methuen, 1940), is that he himself provided all its illustrations, whether photographs, stippled pen-and-ink drawings, or (as in his depiction of various frogs and a salamander, reproduced above) a full-color painting.

While Forsyth's dissertation was not intended as a standard biography of Cott, it nevertheless reveals a lot about a leading contributor to the theory and practice of camouflage. "This study on camouflage," as Forsyth explains, "draws attention to moments, places, sites, networks and spacings of [Hugh B.] Cott's life, not in an effort to close in around the individual and know him fully, but rather, as a means to extend the breadth and to cast greater clarity on the history of military camouflage. …it is a geographical biography of camouflage through Cott."

It is a fascinating document, supplemented by equally interesting photographs that pertain to camouflage. Let's hope it soon becomes a book. In the meantime, the entire dissertation is available online at this link.