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A Treasure Trail: The History of Computer Science
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A Computing Treasure Trail: Cambridge's Computer Science Heritage

The connection between Cambridge University and computing may not quite stretch back for eight hundred years, but the history of computing in its many forms is certainly connected to Cambridge in many ways, with Newton, Babbage, Wilkes, Needham and Sparck-Jones among those who have graced the University over the centuries.

On May 27th we would like to invite you to take a short tour of some sites in the Cambridge that are associated with computation and computer science, complete with some fascinating demonstrations and an opportunity to see parts of one of the world's first computers, the EDSAC.

The tour is taking place in advance of a lecture by Bill Thompson from the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet, on The 10 Cultures Problem, which will take place at 14:15 in the Computer Laboratory.

You can download the map and take the tour yourself - it's about 2.5 miles - or join the guided tour which will begin at the Sidgwick Site at 10:45 and arrive at the lab in time for the talk.


You can download a PDF of the brochure if you want to take the tour on your own.


These are the sites to see. You can also see the route on Google Map.

The walk is taking place during the University’s examination period, so colleges will be closed to non-members. 


Faculty of Economics, Sidgwick Site, Sidgwick Avenue

Demonstration of the MONIAC Analogue Hydraulic Computer Demo by Dr. Allan McRobie, Economics Department at 10:00, 11:00 and 11:30


The Mathematical Bridge, visible from Silver Street

A famous Cam landmark, which was neither designed nor built by Isaac Newton.


Former home of DAMTP, visible through alley off Silver Street

Formerly the workplace of Professor Stephen Hawking


St Botolph's Church, corner of Silver Street and Trumpington Street

An unusual double sundial


Olivetti/AT&T Research Labs, old Addenbrooke's Site, Trumpington Street

Site of a great deal of important research, including the active badge and other work in pervasive computing.


Foundress Court Sundial, Pembroke College, visible from Tennis Court Road

A modern sundial


Site of the Bun Shop pub, corner of Downing Street and Corn Exchange Street (now part of Grand Arcade)

A favourite with computer scientists, including Roger Needham, former head of department and founding director of Microsoft Research, Cambridge


New Museums Site

The site of the old Mathematical Laboratory and the EDSAC, commemorated with a plaque near the Babbage Lecture Theatre


The old Computer Lab tower,

Site of the Trojan Room and the Cambridge Coffee Pot, in the New Museums Site


The old Cavendish Laboratory, visible from Free School Lane

The research laboratory where the electron and neutron were discovered


The Eagle, Bene't Street

Another favourite pub with computer scientist, also notable as a regular haunt for Francis Crick and James Waston when they were working on the structure of DNA/


King’s College, King’s Parade

Alan Turing was one of the notable computer scientists to have been a Fellow at King’s


6a King’s Parade (now the meditation centre)

Formerly offices for Sinclair Research and Acorn Computers, among others.


Trinity College, Trinity Street,

Where Isaac Newton worked.


St John's College, St John's Street,

Where Roger Needham and Maurice Wilkes were fellows


The Castle, Castle Street

Another haunt of computer scientists – there may be a theme emerging – and notable as the place where the 'xen hypervisor' was named


Mount Pleasant House

Home of many startups especially those associated with Hermann Hauser and Andy Hopper.


This is a good point to take a taxi or bus  to the Cavendish Laboratory



Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Wilberforce Road

Where Andrew Wylie presented his solution to Fermat's Last Theorem


Cavendish Laboratory

Qubit Quantum Computing Demo by Dr. David Williams in the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory at 11:30, 12:00, and 12:30

Dasher Demo and Exhibition in the Physics Dept. lobby


Computer Laboratory

A number of exhibitions and displays will be taking place during the day:

History of Computer Laboratory

The Door: display of the original door of Mathematical Department (the common room on 1st floor)

The Trojan Room Coffee Pot (the world's first webcam): BBD News in 1994

EDSAC Demo (Video: Martin Richards - EDSAC Simulation in BCPL)

EDSAC papers by David Wheeler (Initial Orders for EDSAC)

Exhibition of archived research papers (Computer Laboratory Library )

Relics Project - Virtual Exhibition

CAP project (at the entrance hall)

Refreshments are available in the Cafe

Lecture: The 10 Cultures Problem (1415, Lecture Theatre 1)


Guided Tour

If you would like to join the guided tour please meet outside the Economics Faculty Building on the Sidgwick Site at 10:45.

The tour, which includes demonstrations of the hydraulic computer and the quantum computer, will arrive at the Cavendish Laboratory at 12:30 and at the Computer Laboratory at 13:30, giving you time to have lunch before the lecture begins at 14:15.

Direction and Maps

Bill Thompson (Bill's blog)

Writer and journalist Bill Thompson took the Diploma in Computer Science in 1983 and now describes himself as a 'technology critic', straddling the two worlds in his work for the BBC, Arts Council England and others. In this lecture he will consider what level of understanding of computer science is needed in order to be an effective and engaged member of modern society. What is the technological equivalent of Snow's complaint that the literary people of his acquaintance did not know of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Should everyone code, or is it enough to understand what Roger Needham meant when he claimed - as he so often did - that every problem in computing can be solved with another level of indirection?

His Lecture: The 10 Cultures Problem

In May 1959 CP Snow used the Rede Lecture in Cambridge to explore the notion that British society, its education system and its intellectual life was characterised by a split between two cultures, the humanities and the sciences. Today the divide that matters is that between those who can count in binary and those who can't, between the culture of the technologists and coders and that of the users. The division is similar to, but not co-extensive with, that identified by Snow simply because most scientists are, thanks to the technological basis of their research, computer-literate, while many of those in the arts, humanities and politics will be wondering what happened to the other eight cultures referred to in the title of this lecture.

Information of the Historical Sites