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National Archive for the History of Computing

Date range: 1930s–1990s.

Computers have shaped many aspects of the economy and society of the industrialized world during the second half of the 20th century.

The computer industry itself has been characterized by intense technological development, rapid growth, massive structural change, and hence short-term corporate memory.

By the 1980s it was becoming recognized that many of the artefacts, historical records and personal recollections from the early decades of computing, in which Britain played a major role, were fast disappearing.

The National Archive for the History of Computing was therefore established in 1987 under the auspices of the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), to provide a repository for the artefacts, archives and oral testimonies of computer history.

The aims of the NAHC are: to produce a comprehensive listing of records relating to the history of computing in Britain and to encourage their preservation; to preserve records that are at risk; to conduct and record interviews with leading figures in the history of computing in order to establish an oral history archive; and to undertake research into computer history and to stimulate research by organizing conferences and postgraduate teaching and supervision.

The NAHC holds archives of many companies and public bodies which have been prominent in the history of computing, such as

  • Admiralty Computing Service and Admiralty Research Laboratory (NAHC/ACS)
  • Armament Research Establishment, Fort Halstead, Kent (NAHC/ARE)
  • Cambridge University Computer Laboratory (NAHC/EDS)
  • English Electric Company Ltd (NAHC/EEC)
  • Ferranti Ltd (NAHC/FER)
  • International Computers Ltd (ICL) (NAHC/ICL)
  • LEO Computers Ltd (NAHC/LEO)
  • Manchester University Department of Computer Science (NAHC/MUC)
  • Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd (NAHC/MAR/C)
  • Meteorological Office (NAHC/MET)
  • National Physical Laboratory (NAHC/NPL)
  • National Research Development Corporation, which invested heavily in the British computer industry in the 1950s and ’60s (NAHC/NRD)
  • Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough (NAHC/RAE)
  • Royal Radar Establishment; Scientific Computing Service Ltd (NAHC/RRE)
  • United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (NAHC/AEA)

There are also papers of several individuals involved in the development of computing, most notably Douglas R. Hartree (1897–1958), Alan Turing (1912–54) and Professor Sir F.C. Williams (1911–77).

Items include:

  • photographs of machines, components and production facilities
  • technical drawings and specifications
  • hardware and software manuals
  • trade catalogues, price lists, technical information sheets and promotional literature
  • working papers and reports
  • published reports, articles and monographs
  • correspondence
  • audio-visual material

Finding aids

  • Catalogues available online via ELGAR (see links above).
  • CHSTM National Archive for the History of Computing catalogue.
  • Geoffrey Tweedale, ‘The National Archive for the History of Computing’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 10, no. 1 (1989), pp. 1-8.

Location

Main Library and CHSTM.

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