Margaret Gowing

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Margaret Mary Gowing
Born 26 April 1921[1]
North Kensington, London[1]
Died 7 November 1998(1998-11-07) (aged 77)
Citizenship British
Nationality British
Fields History of sciences

Civil Service
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

Oxford University — Linacre College
Known for History of UK's nuclear weapons
Notable awards

Fellow of the Royal Society[2]
1976, Honorary DLitt University of Leeds[1]
1982, Honorary DLitt University of Leicester[1]


Margaret Mary Gowing (née Elliott), FBA,[2] FRS,[2] CBE, (26 April 1921 – 7 November 1998) was an English historian.[1]


Gowing was involved with the production of several volumes of the officially sponsored History of the Second World War, published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office in conjunction with Longman's, Green and Co. She was perhaps better known for her books, commissioned by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, covering the early history of Britain's nuclear weapons programmes.

As an official historian of the History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Civil Series, Gowing had access to unpublished official papers and files. As historian/archivist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority from 1959 to 1966 she had free access to official papers and files of the British nuclear weapons programmes; and personally knew many of the people involved. As co-founder (with physicist Nicholas Kurti) and first Director (1972–1986) of the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre in Oxford, she helped ensure the preservation of contemporary scientific manuscripts.[1]

An archive of Gowing's papers is held by the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, presented by her in 1991, with additions on her death in 1998.[3]

Civil Service career[edit]

Gowing (then Elliott) joined the Civil Service in 1941, working in the Ministry of Supply and the Board of Trade, before moving to the Cabinet Office in 1945.[1] There she became involved with the Official History of the Second World War, as assistant to Keith Hancock who was overall editor of the United Kingdom Civil Series of books within the Official History.[1]

In 1944 she married Donald Gowing; they had two children. He died in 1969. The television journalist Nik Gowing (born 1951) is one of her children.

From 1959 to 1966, she acted as the historian and archivist of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, organising systems and criteria for the selection for preservation of scientific, engineering and administrative records; and writing the history of the British atomic project since it began in 1939.[1]

University career[edit]

In 1966 she became Reader in Contemporary History at the University of Kent, Canterbury, covering scientific, technical, economic and social history.[1] From 1972, she was the first Professor of the History of Science at the University of Oxford,[4] where she was based at Linacre College.[5] She delivered her inaugural lecture there, What's Science to History or History to Science?, on 27 May 1975.[1]


  • 1976 Wilkins Lecture, Royal Society: Science, Technology and Education: England in 1870
  • 1976 Enid Muir Lecture, University of Manchester
  • 1977 Bernal Lecture, Birkbeck College, London: Science and Politics
  • 1978 Rede Lecture, Cambridge University: Reflections on Atomic Energy History
  • 1981 Institution of Nuclear Engineers Annual Lecture: Principalities and Nuclear Power: the origins of reactor systems
  • 1982 Herbert Spencer Lecture, University of Oxford: Science and Politics: an old and intimate relationship


Published works[edit]

History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Civil Series[edit]

General Series

British nuclear weapons programmes[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fox, Robert (20 November 1998). "Obituary: Professor Margaret Gowing". The Independent. 
  2. ^ a b c d MacLeod, R. (2012). "Margaret Mary Gowing CBE FBA. 26 April 1921 -- 7 November 1998". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2012.0027.  edit
  3. ^ MSS. Gowing, Manuscript Summary, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, UK.
  4. ^ Fox, R. (2006). "The history of science, medicine and technology at Oxford". Notes and Records of the Royal Society 60 (1): 69–83. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2005.0129. PMID 17153170.  edit
  5. ^ Fox, Robert (2004). "Linacre and the History of Science" (PDF). Linacre News: the magazine of Linacre College, Oxford (27 (Spring 2004)): 4–5. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  6. ^ "Honorary graduates". University of Leeds. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  7. ^ "University records". University of Leicester. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  8. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.