Black and white photo of Jacob Downs

Dr Jacob Downs, LMH Organising Tutor in Music and Chair of Oxford’s Music Faculty, has been named as one of the UK’s ten most promising arts and humanities early-career researchers by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the BBC, featuring in their New Generation Thinkers scheme. 

New Generation Thinkers, which has been running since 2011, seeks to identify the best up-and-coming arts and humanities academics whose ideas will resonate with BBC radio audiences. Selected from hundreds of applicants, Dr Downs and his nine fellow New Generation Thinkers will have the opportunity to share their pioneering research with BBC Radio 4 listeners and will benefit from unique access to training and support from both the AHRC and the BBC. 

The names of the 10 researchers were announced on 16 May as part of a New Thinking episode of the Arts & Ideas podcast hosted by former New Generation Thinker Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, said of this year’s list: “The New Generation Thinkers programme brings interesting, important ideas into the public consciousness, shaping thought and discussion […] These ten brilliant, original thinkers demonstrate the ability of the arts and humanities to help us to better understand both ourselves and the world around us.”

Dr Downs was selected for the scheme thanks to his novel approach to investigating the effects of new sound media on our everyday lives. As he puts it, “Everywhere you look, people are using intimate sound technologies to reshape and enrich their experiences of the world, surrounding themselves in the ‘bubbles’ of noise-cancelling headphones to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and whispered pop vocals. Why are we seeking out intimate sound-worlds so much in the 21st century, and what might it say about us as individuals?”

“I’m bowled over to become a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker for 2024 – not least because I began my radio pitch in a whisper, quoting from an ASMR YouTube video simulating a strange sort of virtual hair salon experience… It’s great that the BBC and the AHRC seem to like the weirder end of research-led radio. I have so many ideas for shows, and I’m looking forward to working closely with the fabulous producers. A huge thanks to my LMH colleagues and students for their support and intellectual stimulation.” – Jacob Downs

Keep an ear out for Dr Downs on BBC Radio 4 over the next year.