Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring 2018 report to the Computer Conservation Society

This was presented on May 17, 2018 to the Computer Conservation Society by Doron Swade.

Work continues on the cross-referenced database for Babbage’s Scribbling Books, the set of manuscript notebooks Babbage used to record his daily deliberations. The database marathon has been undertaken by Tim Robinson in the US and the most recent work takes us to the mid-1860s (Babbage died in 1871). Tim reports that this later content is fragmented and not as systematically referenced by Babbage to the mechanical drawings as is his earlier work. This kicks the interpretative can down the road somewhat as once the transcriptions are complete this content will need to be revisited to integrate it into the larger picture. Page-by-page inspection, while exacting, has the rewards of close reading one of which is revealing new content in the cracks. Here is one such: in the context of manufacturing methods Babbage calculates that the total number of teeth to be formed for a store with 1,000 registers would be 1,800,000.

The Science Museum’s small store at Blythe House has been cleared and a missing Scribbling Book has come to light. A microfiche from the 1970s, illegible in places, was all that was thought to have survived. The Museum generously made the re-found volume available at its excellent viewing facilities in the Dana Centre, South Kensington, and we have photographed the volume using a copying rostrum as an interim measure to resolve by comparison unclear material in the microfiche. The Museum intends to digitise the volume in due course and add it to the online digital archive.

A new development comes in the form of Pip Meadway, a volunteer who has generously been transcribing manuscripts. Using captured digital images of the sources he has transcribed material from the Cambridge Scribbling Book. He is currently working on images of the essays on the Analytical Engine Babbage wrote while travelling in Italy after his memorable visit to a convention in Turin in 1841 where he gave his one and only lecture on the AE designs. The manuscripts are in the Buxton archive in Oxford and the archivists kindly allowed image capture for the transcription work.


Doron Swade

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