Alumnus Dr Jacob Downs named as BBC New Generation Thinker

Christ Church alumnus and University of Oxford academic Dr Jacob Downs (Music, 2012) has been announced as one of this year’s New Generation Thinkers selected by the BBC and UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). 

Each year the BBC and the AHRC release a list of New Generation Thinkers – ten early-career academics in the arts and humanities identified as the most promising and pioneering contributors to their fields. The project sees the BBC and AHRC field hundreds of applications in a nationwide search for new academics with ideas that will engage and intrigue BBC radio listeners. The winning academics are then given the chance to present their exciting ideas to BBC Radio 4 listeners, as well as being offered unique training and support from the AHRC and BBC. 

This year’s New Generation Thinkers have now been announced, and among the select cohort is Dr Jacob Downs, Departmental Lecturer in Music at the University of Oxford. Dr Downs came up to Christ Church in 2012 to read Music, receiving a first-class BA and the prestigious Clifford Smith Prize in Music in 2015. Since then, he received his MSt with Distinction from St John’s College, Oxford in 2016, with full funding from the Ertegun Scholarship Programme, and his PhD with no corrections from the University of Sheffield in 2021. Following research positions at the Universities of Cyprus and Sheffield, Dr Downs returned to Oxford last to take up the position of Organising Tutor in Music at Lady Margaret Hall. Today he also serves as the Chair of Oxford’s Faculty of Music. 

Dr Downs’ research examines musicians’ and listeners’ experiences of using contemporary sound technologies such as noise-cancelling headphones, bringing together approaches and insights from the fields of sound studies, phenomenology, musicology and music psychology. This underexplored area of research caught the attention and imagination of the AHRC and BBC New Generation Thinkers team. 

It’s fantastic to know the BBC and the AHRC appreciate the weirder end of humanities research and have made me a New Generation Thinker for 2024.

Responding to news of his selection as a New Generation Thinker, Dr Downs told us more about his celebrated research: ‘My research explores contemporary listening experiences, adopting a range of approaches, from the scientific to the philosophical, to study perceptions of music and sound in both public and private spaces. 

‘For example, I explore how people use headphones to cushion themselves against the onslaught of contemporary life, what individuals are looking for when they listen to hours of whispered videos on YouTube, and why lots of us seem more and more to be choosing to play sound from our phones out loud on buses. 

‘It’s fantastic to know the BBC and the AHRC appreciate the weirder end of humanities research and have made me a New Generation Thinker for 2024.’

Dr Downs also thanked Christ Church, where he began his academic journey: ‘I began my academic pursuits at Christ Church in 2012, where I spent three of the best years of my life so far. I thank Christ Church wholeheartedly for its continuing support.’

The Christ Church community would like to congratulate Dr Downs on his selection as a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker. We look forward to discovering where his research takes him next, and to the publication of his two forthcoming books. 

Learn more about Dr Jacob Downs’ academic background and research.