Fonds MSG 173 - Charles Babbage Fonds

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Charles Babbage Fonds

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  • 1804-1847 (Creation)
    Babbage, Charles, 1791-1871

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6 cm of textual records

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Biographical history

Mathematician Charles Babbage was born near Teignmouth in Devonshire and educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1814, M.S. 1817). While still a student, Babbage and his friends Herschel and Peacock produced translations and expansions of continental works on calculus which served to spark a mathematical revival in England. As early as 1812, he was developing the idea of calculating mathematical tables using machinery, an enterprise that occupied most of his life. By 1822 he had constructed several prototypes, and received a government grant to pursue his research. Financial and personal disputes brought this work to a halt in 1828, but during the hiatus which followed, Babbage designed an even more sophisticated, flexible machine, 'programmed' by punch cards, with six orders of differences, and printing capacity. Though his concept was acknowledged to be brilliant and workable, Babbage never raised enough money to build the machine.

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Scope and content

Fonds consists of a printed copy of Babbage's autobiographical Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) interleaved with his letters, 1804-1847, from contemporary scientists, including John Dalton, Michael Faraday, Hans Christian Oersted, Sir George Biddell Airy, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Sir Richard Owen, and H. F. Talbot.

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  • English

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