Dr Richard Noakes

Research interests

My research embraces the historical relationships between, on the one hand, Western sciences, and on the other, wider aspects of human culture, including religion, the occult and esotericism, technology, industry, and the mass media.  I have long been interested in the fascination of Victorian scientists (and in particular, physicists) for spiritualist mediumship, telepathy, apparitions, water divining and other phenomena grouped together as 'psychical'.  This fascination continued long after the Victorian period with the intriguing interest of post-Second World War physicists in the 'spooky' implications of quantum mechanics.  This research will culminate in a forthcoming book, although I doubt whether I'll ever be able to leave this subject alone.

Among the Victorians with strong psychical interests were some electrical engineers who made their reputations and incomes from new electrical forms of communication, including submarine cable telegraphy and radio.  I have recently looked at these figures from an alternative perspective: how far to their achievements challenge the historiography of British industrial research?  In a recent article I argue that their research and inventive activity does indeed suggest that in this growing part of the service sector (a sector traditionally neglected in studies of industrial research), research was not as moribund as many historians have suggested.  I will be developing this much further in a forthcoming monograph.

I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the joint AHRC- and Leverhulme-funded 'Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical' at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 1999-2002.  The project produced an annotated online index of the scientific, medical and technology content of several major generalist periodicals published in Britain between 1800 and 1900: http://www.sciper.org/

I was Principal Investigator on an 18-month AHRC-funded project on cable telegraphy in Cornwall between 1870 and 1918.  This was a joint venture between the University of Exeter and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and resulted in a major exhbition at the museum and an online database of archive materials: http://www.porthcurno.org.uk/nerve-centre/digital-archive

Research collaborations

I have collaborated with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum on 'Connecting Cornwall: Telecommunications, Work and Locality in West Cornwall, 1870-1918', and received an AHRC research grant for the project in 2008: http://www.porthcurno.org.uk/nerve-centre/digital-archive

I was an advisor for The John Tyndall Correspondence Project, an international research and transcription project involving York University, Canada, Montana State University, University of Auckland and several UK unversities: http://www.yorku.ca/tyndall/

I am now on the advisory board and a workshop convenor for the AHRC-funded 'Oliver Lodge Research Network', a collaborative venture with the University of Leeds and other institutions.