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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

History of the archive

CHSTM 074-agar-hughes-(2)
Archive image of the Archive: Jon Agar (then Associate Director), Dr Jeff Hughes of CHSTM and a Williams-Kilburn tube in the Archive's former Mathematics Tower base, 1995

Proposals for a National Archive for the History of Computing began to take shape around 1985, when a Computer Museum and Archive Group was founded to bring together computing professionals, archivists and historians. A preliminary survey of industry archives, concentrating on the period 1950-70, was produced by the Institution of Electrical Engineers with funding from ICL, the consolidated manufacturer whose heritage included most of Britain's commercial large-computer production activity.

A proposal to develop and house a national archive came from the recently-founded Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the (Victoria) University of Manchester, in collaboration with the John Rylands University Library and the Department of Computer Science (now the School of Computer Science), where Professor Simon Lavington had been active in tracing the early history of British computer production. This became a reality through a three-year development grant from the Leverhulme Trust, and the Archive was inaugurated at CHSTM on 1 July 1987.

The Archive was initially developed by Geoffrey Tweedale (now of Manchester Metropolitan University Business School), who held the post of Associate Director as a research associate; it has since been combined with a lectureship in the history of science and technology. Dr Tweedale was succeeded by Dr Geof Bowker (from 1991), Dr Jon Agar (from 1994) and, since 2004, by Dr James Sumner. Advisors to the Archive include Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly, now of the University of Warwick, and Professor John Pickstone, founding Director of CHSTM, who put forward the original application to develop the Archive and has been closely involved throughout its existence.

For many years the Archive was housed within CHSTM itself, in its former location in the Mathematics Tower; having outgrown this space, it was accepted by the John Rylands University Library, and access is now maintained by the Library's Special Collections staff. Recent development initiatives have concentrated on extending the Archive's holdings beyond 1970, and on sourcing material which addresses the representation and use of computer technologies, in order to supplement the established focus on production.

Why Manchester?

The computer has played a significant, and increasingly widely-recognised role in the history of Manchester's scientific and industrial identity.  Collaborations between the University and local manufacturers established the city at the forefront of computer research in Britain after the Second World War, yielding the first-ever electronic digital stored-program machine (1948); first commercially-available computer (1951); first transistor computer (1953) and Britain's earliest Department of Computer Science (1964).  CHSTM, with its strong focus on twentieth-century history and expertise in interdisciplinary research, provides an ideal research context for the Archive; the University provides all the amenities of a major academic institution, and the city's transport links make it easily accessible to international scholars.

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Further Information

Geoffrey Tweedale, "The National Archive for the History of Computing," Journal of the Society of Archivists 10:1, 1989, 1-8

John Pickstone and Geof Bowker, "The Manchester Heritage", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 15:3, 1993, 7-8

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