Why on earth do we have computers in the Collection?

If someone asked you to describe a museum collection, most of us would imagine strange taxidermy animals, ancient archaeological items and perhaps some exotic natural history specimens. What we probably don’t think about is the modern technology that has been collected in recent years, such as computers. These have had a huge impact on our lives whether it’s in the home, the workplace, or out and about, they have changed how society works. Here within the depths of our own collection there lies three computers, collected between 2000 and 2004.


The three models of early computer that we have here is the Commodore PET, the ZX Spectrum, and the Amstrad PCW. These were all introduced to the British market during the 1980s, but they aren’t the earliest examples of computer. The technological advancements made with codebreaking during the Second World War formed the foundation of the modern computer. It was during the 1950s that computing really took off. Aspects such as keyboards, popular computer languages, and screens were slowly developed over the next two decades, when in the 1970s computers began to look like modern day versions.

However, during the 1950s and 1960s computers were inaccessible to most people other than the wealthiest companies and academic institutions. Many people thought that computers were the answer for long standing issues, but others feared they would replace millions of jobs and were something to be feared. Yet their ability to process data quickly and efficiently was appealing to most people and so, seeing there was a profit to be made, companies researched smaller and cheaper machines. Domestic and commercial demand combined with improving technology saw the size and cost of computers decline while their computing ability increased, and by 1980 desktop computers such as the Commodore PET were, appearing in smaller businesses and even homes. Along with desktop computers came video games. The ZX Spectrum is iconic as an early computer that could play games. These video game ‘programmes’ were pieces of software that came as cassette tapes. The player would insert the tape in to the Spectrum, connect it to a computer screen, and there was also the choice of using a joy stick. These games would change how young people spent their time or money. In the 1950s teenagers may have spent their money on records and clothes, but by the 1980s they were saving pocket money for new video games.