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Apply for a fully-funded PhD Studentship

Posted on 5 April 2018

Apply for a funded PhD at the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities on National and global networks in electronic music, 1945-1967.

This project, which is at White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WROCAH), would focus on National and global networks in electronic music, 1945-1967 and be part of a WROCAH network on Electronic Soundscapes

The history of music has become an important empirical focus for historians but too often ‘music’ has merely been used as a ‘lens’ to explore broader socio-cultural shifts: inter alia, the rise of the teenager, racial segregation/integration, modernism/post-modernism. This project is more ambitious and potentially much more significant, addressing themes at the cross-section of the sub-disciplines of social history, economic history, and the history of technology.

This project focuses on debates about individual versus collective invention and applies this way of thinking to electronic music technologies of the post-WW2 decades, that is, the magnetic tape recorder, the mainframe computer (as used in pioneering work at Bell Labs), and the modular synthesizer. Published histories of experimental electronic music—typically written by musicologists rather than historians—have focused on the works of great (usually white, male) composers, and on new technological innovations. Although much important work has been documented in this way (see bibliography), this approach has tended to overlook socio-economic dimensions. It is these overlooked dimensions that this PhD project will look at.

In particular, the project seeks to reconstruct networks: to map how humans connected and how ideas spread; there is the potential to deploy Social Network Analysis which has typically been used to understand the density and reach of secretive social movements/or standard rich descriptions of group influences and affections (see bibliographical references below). The project also seeks to take the history of electronic music back into the pre-war period, and to consider how, why and to what extent it evolved out of sound technologies, most notably radar.

It is to be expected that a PhD student will discover new data sources but there are accessible but under-exploited resources: the personal networks of ‘ego-net’ pioneers such as Hugh Davies (see Mooney); the activities of large corporations (such as Bell Corporation, and the BBC); and covert operations of governments who were interested in the strategic applications of electronic sound.

We envisage the project as a launch pad for an academic career as a pioneering social historian of Britain. The network has excellent ties with the National Museum of Science and the Media, Bradford, and we will encourage you to explore the museum’s holdings on the history of sound and to develop ideas for exhibitions. The PhD will also develop a range of valuable research skills of use to a wide range of careers.

Reading for Orientation:
Entry points:

  • Thom Holmes, Electronic and Experimental Music (2015) [which is especially good on the US]
  • Peter Manning, Electronic and Computer Music (2013).
  • Work in musicology: James Mooney, Dorien Schampaert
  • Tim Boon, ‘Alternative histories of electroacoustic music’ (2017) Organised Sound, 22(2), pp.143-149
  • James Mooney, ‘Hugh Davies’ Electronic Music Documentation 1961-1968’ (2015) Organised Sound, 20, 1, pp.111-121.

On methods:

  • Gemma Edwards and Nick Crossley, ‘Measures and Meanings: Exploring the Ego-Net of Helen Kirkpatrick Watts Militant Suffragette’ (2009) Methodological Innovations Online, pp.37-61
  • Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing British Visionary Music (2011)


This application is in two parts, which can be completed in any order:

For more details about the scheme contact:

David Clayton (Senior Lecturer, Department of History, University of York):

James Mooney (Associate Professor, School of Music, University of Leeds):

The scheme is open to UK/EU and international students.