Dr Jacob Ward

jacob ward  featured publication cover
Jon Agar and Jacob Ward, eds. Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain. London: UCL Press, April 2018.

Histories of Technology, the Environment, and Modern Britain brings together historians with a wide range of interests to take a uniquely wide-lens view of how technology and the environment have been intimately and irreversibly entangled in Britain over the last 300 years. It combines, for the first time, two perspectives with much to say about Britain since the industrial revolution: the history of technology and environmental history. Technologies are modified environments, just as nature is to varying extents engineered. Furthermore, technologies and our living and non-living environment are both predominant material forms of organisation – and self-organisation – that surround and make us. Both have changed over time, in intersecting ways.

Technologies discussed in the collection include bulldozers, submarine cables, automobiles, flood barriers, medical devices, museum displays and biotechnologies. Environments investigated include bogs, cities, farms, places of natural beauty and pollution, land and sea. The book explores this diversity but also offers an integrated framework for understanding these intersections.

 

Research Interests

  • History of Science
  • History of Technology
  • Modern British History
  • History of Computing
  • History of Telecommunications
  • Environmental History
  • History of Intelligence and Cryptography
  • Science and Technology Studies

My research has primarily focussed on the history of computing and communications in Britain. My PhD thesis explored how computing and telecommunications shaped the rise of the British neoliberal state – the British telecommunications network was fundamental to Thatcherism, as its 1981 liberalisation underpinned Thatcherist industrial policies emphasising information technology’s market power, and its successful 1984 sale popularised the privatisation of state infrastructure. I show that cybernetics and information theory, two theories of computing and communications, laid the groundwork for liberalisation and privatisation, and so argue that Thatcherism was not a purely top-down political project, but was anticipated, negotiated, and enacted by engineers, scientists, and their theories about computing and communications.

My current research continues my interest in cybernetics and information theory. As Postdoctoral Researcher on Ursula Martin’s project, ‘The Social Machine of Mathematics’, I focus on the historical circulation and impact of ideas in mathematics and computing. I selected cybernetics and information theory as two ideas which circulated far and wide after World War II, influencing diverse research, from economic modelling and robotics to psychiatry and architecture.

I have also developed interests in environmental history, intelligence history, and the history of futurology. In environmental history, I researched Anglo-American post-war transatlantic communication projects during a Smithsonian Fellowship at the Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation, the National Museum of American History. I have researched the history of intelligence and cryptography as part of my previous role at the Science Museum, London, where I worked on a forthcoming exhibition on these subjects. My interest in the history of futurology has developed from my research into computer modelling and science fiction in the British Post Office, and I have a forthcoming chapter in an OUP edited collection, Futures, which will discuss this.

I have previously taught on HPSC 1011: History of Modern Science (UCL, 2016) and HPSC 1010: Revealing Science (UCL, 2015).

  • Financing the Information Age: London TeleCity, the Legacy of IT-82, and the Selling of British Telecom

  • Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain

  • Oceanscapes and Spacescapes in North Atlantic Communications

  • Computing the Long Range: Inventing and Marketing the Future in the British Telecommunications System, 1966-1981

  • More

2018

‘What Happened to Wireless?’, the Marconi Lecture, March 2018, the Bodleian Library, Oxford. https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/what-happened-wireless

2014

‘Wearable Technology: Who Knows Your Body’s Secrets?’ BBC Future, 2 June 2014. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140601-who-knows-your-bodys-secrets

List of site pages