Hoard of forgotten Turing letters discovered in filing cabinet
A file of 148 documents belonging to Alan Turing including correspondence, official letters, and a handwritten draft of a BBC radio program on artificial intelligence has been discovered in a filing cabinet at the University of Manchester. It is possible that the unique collection of documents has not seen the light of day for over 30 years, and the identity of the individual who filed the papers remains a mystery.
The treasure trove of documents was discovered by chance in May this year, as Professor Jim Miles of the University of Manchester's School of Computer Science stumbled across an orange folder marked "Alan Turing" while reorganizing a storeroom. Since its discovery, the contents of the file have been sorted, catalogued, and stored at the university library. Documents in the file date from early 1949, up to June 1954 – the month of Turing's tragic death.
There are very few documents that allude to Turing's personal life, and no letters from any relations. Instead, the majority of the documents focus on his research. Most of the letters are typed and relatively few are initialed, suggesting that the letters from Turing were dictated and typed by another.
Included amongst the documents are numerous official letters to Turing. Some requested to use the computing equipment of which Turing was custodian during his time at the university, while others offered comment on his published articles and research. Annotations written in Turing's hand can also be seen marking some of the documents.
There are also letters from prestigious institutions in America, such as MIT, offering Turing the chance to lecture, and an invitation to attend a conference in America, to which Turing amusingly replied, "I would not like the journey, and I detest America."
During the time in which the documents were created, Turing's wartime efforts were still highly classified. Even so, one letter, sent to Turing from Government Communication Headquarters made reference to Bletchley Park - the home of the World War II codebreakers.
Turing's conviction under the 1952 Illegal Sex Act, and subsequent "hormone treatment" are not referenced in the documentation.
"This is a truly unique find. Archive material relating to Turing is extremely scarce, so having some of his academic correspondence is a welcome and important addition to our collection" said James Peters, an archivist at the university library.
"There is very little in the way of personal correspondence, and no letters from Turing family members. But this still gives us an extremely interesting account and insight into his working practices and academic life whilst he was at the University of Manchester."