December 9, 2021

Discovering the History of Computing

Located on the Bletchley Park Estate; the once top-secret home of World War Two Codebreakers, the A Level Computer Science cohort recently had the opportunity to explore The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC). Computer Science Teacher, Alasdair Stuart, described the outing as “An amazing trip that was so much better than we thought it could be. Its success was primarily down to the engaging and knowledgeable tour guide volunteers that were there on the day for us.”

Throughout the day, the group experienced key concepts in computing first hand, including a demonstration of codebreaking machines including Colossus and the Turing-Welchman Bombe. They were particularly interested to discover how cryptographers were able to create the devices without having the encryption machines and just the cyphertext. Two hands-on workshops included a session on assembly code, and a session about the Turing Test, exploring artificial intelligence and chat-bots.

Upper Sixth student, Christian, commented “The trip was great for learning more about the early inventions for encryptions and cyphers during and after World War Two, discovering the advances in computing hardware, especially the size of components. This was something I didn’t realise how quickly was being replaced every few years. A fun learning experience!”

From studying encryption and decryption methods used during war and peacetime, to the processing speed differences between higher level programming languages, to assembly code and the progression of memory and data storage through history, a trip to the world’s largest collection of working historic computers would not be complete without some retro gaming.

Amir reflected “It was very interesting to explore different encrypting machines of the twentieth century and their usage. This has expanded my understanding of how computers work on hardware level.” James added “I enjoyed learning about the wartime effects on the development of encryption and encryption breaking machines.”

Compelled by the size of the machinery, Qayyum was preoccupied with a practical modern-day use for the antiques, “I would love to have a hard disk for a coffee table!” he remarked, referring to a gigantic 4MB hard drive shown earlier that day.

Bringing the history of computing to life through the pioneering efforts of the 1940’s, to the large systems and mainframes of the 50s, 60s and 70s, through to the rise of personal computing and later the internet and mobile, The National Museum of Computing not only places emphasis on Britain’s computing heritage but on ongoing British contribution to innovation and development. It is recognised as one of England’s top 100 ‘irreplaceable places.’

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