The Mathematical Laboratory was established in 1937, under the aegis of the Mathematics Faculty, for work on mechanical computation in all branches of science. J.E. Lennard-Jones, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry, was appointed its part-time director and Maurice Wilkes its first full-time member of staff. The earliest equipment acquired was a differential analyser. The laboratory and its equipment was made available to the Ministry of Supply during World War Two. In 1947, Maurice Wilkes was appointed director. Thereafter, the laboratory became involved in electronic, stored program, digital computing. EDSAC [Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator] came into use as a fully functional stored program computer in May 1949. The Laboratory was also active in teaching. The first formal course leading to a qualification began in 1953. The Computer Science Tripos was first examined in 1972.
In the first decades of its existence, the study of computing as an academic subject and the provision of computing facilities to the University as a whole were intimately bound together. In 1970, the Computing Service was divided from teaching and research within the Laboratory. In 2001, it formally separated on the relocation of the Laboratory to West Cambridge (see below).
The laboratory was renamed the Computer Laboratory in 1970, a department independent of any faculty, responsible to the Computer Syndicate. Supervision passed to the Computer Science Syndicate in 1991. From January 2006, the Laboratory was reconstituted as the sole department within the newly established Faculty of Computer Science and Technology, within the School of Technology and the Computer Science Syndicate was replaced by a Faculty Board.
The Laboratory was housed on the New Museums Site until 2001 when it moved into the William Gates Building in West Cambridge.
For background information, see M.V. Wilkes, Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer (MIT Press, 1985); IEEE Annals of the history of computing. Special issue on the University of Cambridge, Vol.14(4), 1992; 'EDSAC 99', a programme and digest of papers presented at a conference in Cambridge 15-16 April 1999 (catalogued as UA COMP 7/2) and the Computer Laboratory website.
The archives comprise limited quantities of administrative material, including of the Computing Service. Much more significant are the surviving records of EDSAC and EDSAC 2 [Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator], among the earliest electronic computers, developed in the late 1940s and 1950s.
The papers have been transferred in three tranches: papers in sections COMP A-D and F were transferred from the Computer Laboratory by Dr A.R. Herbert in December 1982. Papers in sections COMP 1/1-4, 2-3, 4/1-2, 5/1-3, 6-7, A.20-2 and C.7 were transferred by Nicholas Cutler, Librarian, Computer Laboratory, on 12 November 2008. Papers in section COMP 1/5-7, 4/3-12, 5/4, 7/2 (addnl) and C.8-10 were transferred Nicholas Cutler, Librarian, Computer Laboratory, on 17 Dec. 2012. They are permanent transfers to the University Archives.
Requests to publish text should be addressed to the Keeper of Manuscripts and University Archives, photographs to the Head of Imaging Services; both at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR.
Please cite as Cambridge University Archives, Archives of the Mathematical Laboratory and its successor, the Computer Laboratory, COMP