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University and museum to uncover history of mass communication

The University of Exeter and Porthcurno Telegraph Museum have won a prestigious research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to study Britain's leading role in the history of mass communications. A research team based on the University of Exeter's Tremough Campus, Penryn, will work with Museum staff to explore this important part of British and Cornish history.

Between 1869 and 1945, Britain led the way in developing new communications technologies to support its global influence. Cornwall was central to this success: many of the cables that linked Britain to the rest of the world came ashore at Porthcurno and the area was the hub of international cable communications from 1870 to 1970 as well as hosting a communications training college until 1993.

Originally called the Eastern Telegraph Company, Cable and Wireless was at the heart of Britain's developments in mass communications. The researchers will explore the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum's Cable and Wireless archive of company records, maps, photographs, advertisements, diaries letters and magazines, to document its history. The research will focus on the company's use of visual culture, such as advertising and photography, its activities in China and Hong Kong and its operations to support the World War Two war effort. The team hopes its findings will shed light on the ways in which these developments in communications helped place Britain in a prominent global position.

Professor Catherine Brace, a geographer on the University of Exeter's Tremough Campus said: "It is acknowledged that the telegraph was crucial to Britain's imperial and industrial expansion during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, the subsequent technological developments into cable and wireless remain relatively unexplored. By the turn of the 20th century, Britain had the world's largest international telecommunications system, which linked us to the rest of the world through a series of submarine cables, land lines and wireless transmitters. We are very excited to have the opportunity to work with the PorthcurnoTelegraphMuseum to delve into this hugely important part of Britain's past."

Libby Buckley, Director of Porthcurno Telegraph Museum said: "The museum and archive collections at Porthcurno represent a significant aspect of an international cultural heritage. They are vitally important to a full understanding of the technological and social significance of 'the communications revolution' initiated by the electric telegraph and in particular, the impact of the international cable network that radiated out from the cable station here at Porthcurno from 1870."

This five-year research project will start in October 2008 and the AHRC award will fund three new University of Exeter PhD students on the Tremough Campus.

The £100 million Tremough Campus is a Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative ­of which the University of Exeter and University College Falmouth are two of the founding partners. It is funded mainly by the European Union (Objective One), the South West Regional Development Agency, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with support from Cornwall County Council. Set in 70 acres of countryside, but close to the waterside towns of Penryn and Falmouth, the campus offers a lively student community. The University of Exeter now offers degrees in Biology, Modern Celtic and Cornish Studies, English, Geology, Geography, History, Law, Mining Engineering, Politics and Renewable Energy on its Tremough Campus, which has expanded rapidly as part of the Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative.

Porthcurno was the largest cable station in the world. The valley was the hub of international cable communications from 1870-1970 and also training college for the communications industry until 1993. The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum takes you on a journey into secret underground buildings and tells you the story of the communications revolution that changed all our lives forever.

The Porthcurno collection is unique in its completeness. They have the only working cable station (complete in all details except the actual cable) in the world as well as all the supporting materials and associated ephemera that are rarely preserved with such collections. Porthcurno also had one of the earliest commercial wireless stations in 1902 and so it is able to show the emerging competition between cable and wireless technology.

For more information about the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum and visiting see

For further information please contact Sarah Hoyle, Press Officer, University of Exeter, on 01392 262062/07989 446920 or email

The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) project, both Phase 1 and Phase 2, through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). University of Exeter is a partner of the CUC.


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