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Margaret Mary Gowing
Born (1921-04-26)April 26, 1921[1]
North Kensington, London[1]
Died 7 November 1998(1998-11-07) (aged 77)
Nationality British
Citizenship British
Known for History of UK's nuclear weapons

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As an official historian of the History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Civil Series, Gowing had access to unpublished official papers and files.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

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

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


  • 1976 Honorary DLitt, University of Leeds[6]
  • 1981 Companion of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)[citation needed]
  • 1982 Honorary DLitt, University of Leicester[7]
  • 1987 Honorary DSc, University of Bath[8]
  • 1988 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society[2] under Statute 12 (equivalent to Honorary member)[citation needed]

Published works

History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Civil Series

General Series
  • Civil Industry and Trade (with Eric L. Hargreaves; 1952). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office/Longman's, Green & Co.

British nuclear weapons programmes

  • Britain and Atomic Energy, 1935-1945 (1964) London: Macmillan Publishing.
  • Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945-52. Volume 1: Policy Making (assisted by Lorna Arnold). (1974). London: Macmillan Publishing, ISBN 0-333-15781-8.
  • Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945-52. Volume 2: Policy Execution (assisted by Lorna Arnold). (1974). London: Macmillan Publishing, ISBN 0-333-16695-7.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Fox, Robert (20 November 1998). "Obituary: Professor Margaret Gowing". 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 doi:10.1098/rsbm.2012.0027
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  3. MSS. Gowing, Manuscript Summary, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, UK.
  4. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2005.0129
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  5. Fox, Robert (2004). "Linacre and the History of Science" (PDF). pp. 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. 

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