The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Babbage, Charles (1791–1871)

  • Maxine Berg
Reference work entry


Charles Babbage is rarely regarded as a major contributor to economic thought. His name is synonymous with the early origins of the computer, and he was an important figure in early nineteenth-century scientific circles. He was educated at Trinity College and Peterhouse, Cambridge, and while still a student started the Analytical Society with Herschel and Peacock, for reforming mathematics in Britain. His interest in mathematics was the foundation for his later contributions to science, economics and statistics. After Cambridge, Babbage moved to London, where he began his lifelong work on his analytical engine and became a leading participant in scientific circles. He joined the Royal Society and was a founding member of the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. Later he was to be one of Newton’s illustrious successors in the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. But he was also a radical if maverick intellectual and political critic. He wanted to see science reformed, to see British science play a leading part in theoretical advance, and to see this science related closely to applied technology. He also demanded a role for the state in providing support for science and university education, and for establishing a policy on technology. He wrote a controversial attack on the Royal Society, Reflections on the Decline of Science and Some of its Causes (1830), and was one of the founding trustees of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, with the purpose of bringing science and technology, from the provinces as well as the metropolis, into the forefront of culture and society.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maxine Berg
    • 1
  1. 1.