Doron Swade has a long history of outstanding contributions to the history of computing in the UK.
Left to right: Adrian Johnstone (orator) and Doron Swade
In his citation, Adrian Johnstone identifies Doron as "a curator, not just of objects in our national collections, but of our national consciousness and understanding of computing heritage".
Doron’s studies at the Universities of Cape Town, Cambridge, Essex and University College London included electronic engineering, history, machine intelligence, philosophy of science and physics. He joined the Science Museum in London where he was for 14 years the Curator of Computing and then Head of Collections and Assistant Director; he was awarded an MBE for services to the history of computing in the UK New Year Honours 2009 list.
The project with which Doron is most closely associated, and which forms the basis of his work with Royal Holloway, is the construction of Babbage’s Difference Engine Number 2. In Doron’s resonant phrase, Babbage is the ‘Great-Uncle’ of Computing since he evolved a design for general-purpose mechanical computing that is logically indistinguishable from, but 100 years before, electronic computers. Driven by Doron’s publications and high public profile, Babbage scholarship continues to expand, and motifs derived from Babbage's anachronistic position as an early-Victorian computer engineer appear in popular culture and commentary, in particular the so-called Steam Punk movement.
After leaving the museum, Doron energetically continued his work on Babbage, producing numerous publications, curating an exhibition at the West Coast Computer Museum, and appearing in radio and television programmes including ‘Calculating Ada’, which was partly filmed at Royal Holloway. Perhaps the zenith, or nadir (depending on your viewpoint) of Doron’s TV experience is his recent appearance in ‘Cunk on Britain’ (a mockumentary) in which he patiently explains to the somewhat-intellectually-challenged presenter the true nature of Babbage’s engines.
Doron also agreed to join a project at Royal Holloway to study Babbage’s design methods, and the lustre his participation added to the proposal was instrumental in our receiving a large award from the Levehulme Trust. As part of that research, we have constructed a portion of Babbage’s engine and arranged a steam engine to drive it: finally, Babbage’s dream, that ‘these calculations had been executed by steam’, has been achieved.