Computer Science

Computing History Displays: The Displays

The Computer Science Department at the University of Auckland has, in its lobbies and walkways, a collection of displays on the history of computing and computers. This permanent exhibition somewhat makes up for the lack of any account of the history of computing in the Auckland area. This web site represents an attempt to make the collection available to the wider public. In this introduction you will read how the collection came into being, but please feel free to skip over to the displays and timeline.

How it happened

There was no grand plan to create displays on computer history. However, within our department we were fortunate to have academic staff with deep interest in the history of their subject. Garry Tee, now retired from the Mathematics Department and known for his research into Babbage descendants in New Zealand, taught a graduate course on the history of computing for many years.

The displays are built around artefacts that we have gathered over the years because of our interests. The first items collected were old books and computer manuals, which were later augmented by the collection of the Applied Maths Division of the DSIR when it went out of business. As we replaced equipment, in the days when we purchased rather than leased, we kept examples of what was replaced. Many people offered us old equipment for our collection rather than see it dumped.

When our new department occupied its first renovated space, new lobby areas were created that gave us the opportunity to bring some items out of storage and place on display. This activity was largely due to the enthusiasm and interest of our technical staff, particular Peter Shields. In the days when we had more autonomy we were able to purchase some relevant sculptures that illustrate aspects of computer history.

Later on, an entirely new building was planned which also had large lobbies (this is due to a safety requirement for space around laboratories occupied by 100s of students.) We were able to get some display cabinetry included in the building design and also have a timeline and some displays built as part of the "artistic decoration" budget of the new building.

We have not been very good at keeping records of where our artefacts originated. In many cases we no longer know who the donors were. Where we can we will acknowledge the source but must apologise to those who are not acknowledged. (We can remedy the situation if informed.)

The timeline

The timeline in the entry corridor was the main outcome of a specific project to provide "decoration" for the our building before its official opening. Following the advice of Rodney Wilson, then director of the Auckland Museum, a project team was set up with chair Rick Pearson, of Pearson & Associates Architects - specialists in display design. The committee included Erik Lithander from the Faculty of Science, Hannah Kerr from Auckland Museum, Peter Calder as writer, and Bob Doran & Ute Loerch from the Computer Science Department.

A timeline is typically a list of events in order of the dates at which they occured. It was largely the role of Computer Science staff to decide on the events to be included and provide the draft text. There were far more events than could possibly be accommodated and the selection did come down to personal judgement, with emphasis being given to items of local interest. In many cases there was no specific date but there were early significant inventions which took off and became important many years later. Rather than have multiple events we tended to combine the various stages of development so that the actual date ascribed to the event is somewhat arbitrary - an extreme example is delaying Artificial Intelligence until the "90's" when robotics and computer chess made their marks.

The timeline was itself produced under intense time pressure to be ready for the building opening ceremony. As a consequence we know that there were mistakes made. Hopefully these have been corrected in this on-line version but we welcome feedback for correction and improvement.

As with the artifacts, we were not good about keeping track of the origin of images used in the timeline, which were located in a somewhat mad-scramble. We tried to ensure those we have used were not subject to copyright but apologise for any offence and will correct any transgressions that we are advised about.

The timeline as originally designed acknowledged thanks to: Apple Computer Inc., Columbia University, IBM, The University of Cambridge, Florida State University, Intel, Cray Inc., Stanford University, Telecom, New Zealand Herald, Chippewa Falls Museum of Industry and Technology. This acknowledgement was, presumably, for permission to reproduce images.

More Detailed Displays

Since occupying the new building in 2003 we have, as opportunity knocked, gradually managed to get most of our artefacts out of storage. Some of the most important have been given captions or are included in displays, but many items have yet to be displayed properly.

The purpose of our displays is to educate our students and provoke their interest. The level at which descriptions are pitched is perhaps more technical than would suit the most general audience. The text in the displays are not academic research papers, thoroughly referenced, but an honest attempt to describe some aspects of computer history as fairly as possible.

Following are links to the on-line versions of the displays in the various lobbies. This "on-lining" is being performed in 2009 - in some cases changes have been made to bring descriptions more up to date.
Further additions and corrections were made at the end of 2011.

The "on-lining" project was performed by Bob Doran with the able assistance of Stefan Marks. We welcome corrections, suggestions, complaints and advice. Please send your comments to: The Curator


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