AHRC-funded Collaborative PhD Studentship: The Strategic and tactical role of Cable and Wireless during the Second World War

School of Geography, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum.

Following the award of an extended programme of AHRC Collaborative PhD Studentships, the University of Exeter, in partnership with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, is seeking to appoint a suitably qualified applicant for a doctoral studentship for three years commencing on 1 October 2010. The overall theme of the extended programme is “Themes in the Historical Geography of Communication: the Eastern Telegraph Company to Cable and Wireless, 1869-1945”. Of the three PhD projects identified under this broad theme, one started in October 2008 (Visual Culture and the Making of Corporate Identity) and another started in October 2009 (Entwined business and imperial histories) and the remaining project will commence in October 2010. The principal supervisor will be Professor Catherine Brace and the second supervisor will be Dr Nicola Thomas.

Project Outline:

During the Second World War, the operations of Cable and Wireless were critical; governments co-ordinated policy, broadcasters received the latest war news and families exchanged messages with men fighting overseas.  Cables lent a tactical advantage; they could not be intercepted as radio signals could, though cables were frequently cut.  At the beginning of the war, Cable and Wireless had over 200 stations worldwide. Fourteen cables came ashore at Porthcurno.  Cable and Wireless staff overseas were drafted into a uniformed unit named ‘Telecom’, created with War Office co-operation. The relationship between government and private business was renegotiated in light of the strategic importance of the company’s assets and activities which allowed the integration of intelligence with decision-making. In 1937 the British government pressured the company to dismiss all foreigners employed in cable stations in the British Empire.  Together, the British Government and Cable and Wireless devised a ‘scrutiny scheme’ which used the Official Secrets Act of 1920 to sanction telegraphers to read cable slip and retransmit useful information to London (Headrick, 1991). None of these aspects of the company’s activities has previously been researched in any critical depth, and are only fleetingly covered in Headrick’s (1991) account of telecommunications and international relations.

Research Questions – it is anticipated that the project shall address questions such as:

·      What was the wartime role of Cable and Wireless in the UK and overseas?

·      How were distant cable stations mobilised in the war effort?

·      What was the company’s participation in secret activities, code breaking and intelligence?

·      How does the company’s wartime activity in censorship, cable scrutiny and radio interception help us to understand the relationship between private commercial enterprise and the operations of government?

·      What can we learn about the place of global telecommunications in the strategic and tactical issues that emerged in wartime, using the case study of Cable and Wireless?

·      To what extent did Cable and Wireless use the circumstances of war to resist the commercial threat of wireless communications, and secure competitive advantage?

Under the terms of the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme, the successful applicant will benefit from opportunities to work closely with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum team, who are responsible for the management and promotion of the museum and its activities. This will involve gaining first-hand experience of working on the management of the collection instead of simply viewing it as a scholarly resource. The experience of working with this collection will enhance the employment-related skills and training of the doctoral student.

Specific skills related to the handling, preservation and organisation of fragile archive material will be augmented by more generic skills transferable into any workplace such as negotiating between priorities, managing time and resources, working to a brief, working with others, and communicating findings to expert and lay audiences. A key feature of this collaborative project is that the student will have the opportunity to communicate the outputs of the PhD research to non-academic audiences through, for example, exhibitions, WebPages, leaflets and talks.

This project should interest applicants with backgrounds in diverse disciplines and subject areas, including, for example, cultural geography, historical geography, history. Applicants should hold a 1st Class or Upper 2nd Class Honours degree in a relevant discipline. A Master’s degree, either held or in progress, in a relevant area, would be an advantage. The successful applicant will further benefit from working within a lively and expanding research environment within the School of Geography at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus near Falmouth in Cornwall.

The award will cover University tuition fees and provide a maintenance award of at least £13,290 per year for three years. The terms and conditions of the award will be those of the AHRC’s postgraduate studentships. Applicants must therefore have a relevant connection with the United Kingdom, usually through residence.  For further information, or informal discussion about the position, please contact: Professor Catherine Brace (email [email protected]).


In order to apply you will need to complete an online web form where you must submit some personal details and upload a full CV, covering letter and details of 2 referees.

Your covering letter should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email Helen Pisarska [email protected] or phone +44(0)1392 723310.

The closing date is 12 noon Monday 19th April 2010.  Interviews are likely to be held over two days on 24th and 25th May 2010. Applicants will be required to attend on both days.