Rebecca Barnes recently completed her doctoral studies at the University of York. Her thesis is concerned with tracing long historical relationships between computational models of cognition and behaviour in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She has a particular specialism in the mechanical computers designed by Charles Babbage. This is where her interest in Ada Lovelace stems from, as Lovelace was one the most important interpreters of Babbage’s computational ideas. Rebecca’s current role is as a teaching associate in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, where she teaches nineteenth-century literature.

“Serious play with Babbage and Lovelace: Lovelace’s role in shaping Babbage’s heuristic turn of mind”

The paper that I propose considers Lovelace’s role in shaping Babbage’s thinking regarding computational heuristics. A computer must have its procedural rules stated to it in a completely unambiguous and deterministic manner, but an ability to make nondeterministic choices is an essential requirement in a wide range of contexts: for instance, in gameplay and in the solving of problems in mathematics or logic. There exists, however, a means of using deterministic procedural rules to enable a computer to make nondeterministic choices. These rules are referred to in modern computing as “heuristics”.

Although historian George Atkinson (1998) has identified Babbage’s use of a specific heuristic method known as a “random element”, what has not been appreciated is the extent to which Babbage and Lovelace’s shared interest in mathematical games provided a stimulus for this aspect of Babbage’s thinking. Historian Betty Toole (1992) has already shown that the discussions Lovelace had with Babbage as to how a winning strategy in peg solitaire could be represented mathematically enabled her to develop skills that she would later use to write programs for the Analytical Engine. In this paper I build upon this scholarship with an analysis of how Lovelace’s references to heuristic methods in both the context of mathematical games and computing technology are reflected in Babbage’s writings, especially as a means of enabling him to consider the wider scientific and cultural significance of this concept.

Stewart Lamb Cromar is the Interactive Content Manager for Learning, Teaching and Web services (LTW) at the University of Edinburgh. He manages e-learning development projects in collaboration with internal and external academic and clinical staff in support of effective and engaging student learning and training. Since joining the University in 1998 Stewart has contributed to several international and award-winning projects, including the ‘Virtual Hospital Online’ for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine which won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2005.

Find out more – http://interactive-content.is.ed.ac.uk/

“LEGO Lovelace: Building a modern icon”

Ada herself may not have been lacking vision, but we are certainly struggling to find new ways of representing her image. Of the two adult portraits that regularly get used, one is heavily stylized/romanticised and the other gives little indication of her personality or achievements.

What started in May 2015 as a small personal project to commemorate her bicentenary in a LEGO version of the Analytical Engine (a Raspberry Pi contained in a LEGO case), has rapidly become a mission to introduce Ada to a wider audience. The universal appeal of LEGO is perhaps the perfect Trojan horse to take Ada beyond academic circles.

Ada ‘LEGO’ Lovelace has fully embraced social media and regularly posts photographs of herself and Charles in a series of light-hearted 21st century tableaus. Remaking her imagery in a modern context has prompted some fascinating reactions. Whilst a handful may be rightly protective of her Victorian ancestry, the majority have embraced an opportunity to engage with a much loved icon. What has never been in doubt is the insatiable appetite for her story.

This short paper will provide insight into running the ongoing promotional campaign, the audience demographics and how the project has been reported globally. It will also cover recent Ada Lovelace Day activities at the University of Edinburgh and how she has happily become intertwined with my professional career.

Georgina Ferry is a science writer, author and broadcaster. Her biography of Britain’s only female Nobel-prizewinning scientist, Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life (Granta 1998), was reissued by Bloomsbury Reader in 2014. She has published three further books on 20th-century science. For Hodgkin’s centenary in 2010 she wrote and produced a one-woman play, Hidden Glory. She is Deputy Chair of the Trustees of Science Oxford, a member of the Advisory Groups of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing and the Wellcome Trust’s Collecting Genomics Project, and on the editorial board of the Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society.



“‘If my wave can… follow & touch yours…’: Broadcasting the letters of Ada Lovelace”

During 2015 the BBC’s Make it Digital initiative aimed to inspire a new generation to ‘get creative with coding, programming and digital technology’. Its coincidence with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace offered an opportunity to highlight her pioneering writing on early computing. While her ‘Notes’ on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine represent her only major published work, the Bodleian’s Lovelace-Byron archive and other collections hold a wealth of her correspondence. These letters illustrate her engagement with a broad range of topics in mathematics and science. They also vividly portray her ambition to ‘make a compensation to mankind’ for the ‘misused genius’ of her father, the poet Lord Byron.

Dramatising the letters for radio would bring Ada’s singular voice, and those of her correspondents, to a broad audience. Two 30-minute programmes were broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2015, with the Oscar-nominated actor Sally Hawkins as Ada. I will discuss the challenge of making a selection that was biographically truthful, in less than one hour’s airtime, and anticipating the needs of an audience encountering Lovelace for the first time. I will also touch on other relevant issues such as the casting and direction of the actors, and the nature of the collaboration between the researcher/scriptwriter and the producer.

Imogen Forbes-Macphail is currently undertaking an Mphil in Medieval Literature at Cambridge University, and will be returning to the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016, to complete her PhD. Her scholarly interests include the relationship between literature and mathematics in nineteenth-century Britain. Published articles include ‘The Enchantress of Numbers and the Magic Noose of Poetry: Literature, Mathematics and Mysticism in the Nineteenth Century’, ‘“Cinquefoil Token”: Infinitesimal Calculus and The Wreck of the Deutschland’ and ‘“I shall in due time be a poet”: Ada Lovelace’s Poetical Science in its Literary Context’ (forthcoming).

“‘A sentimental mathematical correspondence’ : Ada Lovelace’s writing”

While Ada Lovelace’s importance as a mathematical thinker and proto-computer scientist is increasingly well-recognized, this paper argues that her work deserves further notice from a literary perspective. While literary scholars have long had an incidental interest in Lovelace as Byron’s daughter and Dickens’ friend, I want to explore her claims to literary attention in her own right and not merely as someone acquainted or associated with famous literary figures. Lovelace certainly entertained strong poetic ambitions throughout her life; and although she did not have the success she desired as a poet, her prose writing, both in her ‘Translator’s Notes’ and in her letters, deserves recognition. This paper will explore the relationship between literary and scientific writing for female authors of the nineteenth-century, and will suggest that at least some of Lovelace’s letters can be understood as an attempt to smuggle elements of her otherwise difficult-to-publish mathematical and scientific thought into an autobiographical, literary genre considered more suitable for women and which she was well-aware might see eventual publication. I will discuss Lovelace’s own concern for and comments on her prose style, as well as her consciousness and cultivation of her work as a continuation of her father’s literary endeavors and a compensation for his defects, together with her view of herself as a publicist, ‘prophet’ and popularizer of Babbage’s machines. I will conclude by exploring how her writing has been refashioned and repurposed through being transmuted into subsequent works of literature and popular culture (The Difference Engine, Arcadia, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), many of which draw heavily either upon her own words, or metaphors taken directly from her works.

Lesley Gray is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kent, researching the interplay between mesmerism and power. Her research interests include the power of suggestion, memory, the integration of the arts, science and technology, and the medical humanities. Her article on Edgar Allan Poe and mesmeric ritual has recently been published in the journal Litterae Mentis, and she has also co-authored a paper for a forthcoming issue of Anglo Saxonica on the Spanish neuroscientist Ramón y Cajal and the uses and abuses of hypnosis.

“Magnets and mesmerism: Ada Lovelace at the cusp of reason and romance”

Although celebrated for her contribution to what would become computer science, Ada Lovelace did not limit her investigations to the technical applications of mathematics but experimented with a number of ideas and theories that were circulating at the time. One such area of interest was mesmerism, the pseudoscience that captured the imagination of Victorian Britain. Mesmerism, also known as animal magnetism, was named after the Austrian physician Anton Mesmer. Mesmer introduced his controversial therapy into late-eighteenth-century Vienna and Paris, where he claimed to be able to harness a universal magnetic fluid that flowed from healer to patient, restoring inner harmony and physical health. Although discredited in Mesmer’s time, mesmerism as a practice grew and, despite the whiff of impropriety that accompanied the treatment’s trance-inducing rituals and ecstatic climaxes, many well-respected physicians and scientists were drawn to the subject. Lovelace’s own curiosity was also aroused and she was soon to be found at the heart of this work, bringing her own enthusiasm and analytical methods to the investigations. Probing the mysterious claims of mesmerism’s efficacy through scientific reason provided the perfect opportunity for Lovelace to consider a topic that both resonated with her ideas on ‘poetical science’ and addressed the competing aspects of passion and reason within her own personality. This paper considers the results of these investigations on mind–body interaction, the increasing divide between science and the arts, as well as the effects on Lovelace herself.

Melissa Highton is Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh. She was previously Director of Academic IT at the University of Oxford and remains a Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College. She has sponsored, hosted and participated in a number of Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia editathons and works closely with colleagues and wikimedians to discover how digital skills development can support women in the workplace.

“Wikipedia and the ‘trouble with girls’: Edit in the name of Lovelace”

Wikipedia has a problem: there is a significant gender imbalance amongst its editors. This suggests that its coverage of subjects may be skewed. In recent years some universities and other cultural organisations have begun to organise edit-a-thon events which welcome women, teach editing skills, promote the idea of editing as an enjoyable and engaging pastime, and aim to create sustained support for women who chose to edit. In the UK several of these edit-a-thons have taken place as part of Ada Lovelace Day celebrations and specifically aimed to result in improved quality and coverage of articles about women in science and female scientists.  This short paper will present a case study of the method and findings from a number of Ada Lovelace Day  edit-a-thons held at University of Oxford and University of Edinburgh over the past 4 years and draw upon research being done for University of Edinburgh to study how Wikipedia edit-a-thons contribute to improving social capital for learning.

Dr. Carlo Ierna (PhD 2009, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is a postdoctoral researcher at Utrecht University (The Netherlands), currently working on the renewal of the ideal of “Philosophy as Science” in the School of Brentano (VENI grant, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO). He has published mainly about the School of Brentano, particularly regarding the philosophy of logic and mathematics, the philosophy of science, and the relation between philosophy and psychology. He is currently developing a new project on “The Mechanization of Consciousness” in the 19th century.

For more information, see http://blog.ierna.name

“Lovelace and Descartes on the limits and possibilities of thinking machines”

While Descartes had already speculated on the limits of thinking machines in his Discourse on Method in 1637, Ada Lovelace was the first to have a machine available to which she could compare human thought operations, giving her a unique perspective on the matter. How does her assessment of the limits and possibilities of the Analytical Engine compare to Descartes’ speculation about a humanoid automaton? According to Lovelace, the Analytical Engine can perform operations on its own that its predecessor, the Difference Engine, could only carry out thanks to human intervention. This would imply that, even if we cannot consider the Analytical Engine to think, we can yet consider its operations as a completely equivalent substitute of operations that previously could only be performed by a human mind. Lovelace is nothing but cautious regarding the “tendency to overrate” the power of the Analytical Engine: “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform.” Thus, creativity serves as criterion and limit of the competence of the machine, distinguishing it from a human. However, Lovelace repeatedly underscores the advantages of the Engine with respect to the brain: freedom from error, accuracy, and speed. These then became precisely the selling points of mechanical calculators once they were successfully commercialized and commoditized toward the end of the 19th century: “Brains of steel that never tire!” (Brunsviga).

Ann Loveridge is a PhD candidate at Canterbury Christ Church University exploring the interface between late-Victorian experimental science and literature. Her thesis is entitled The Neglected Fiction of the Victorian Vivisection Controversy 1876-1913, and her research interests primarily concern the dialogue between literature and science in the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Ann’s thesis focuses on the portrayal of the vivisector by literary writers, the use of scientific images and the role of the vivisector as a metaphor for different concerns. Other research interests include the female scientific pioneer and human-animal studies.

“‘Unweave a rainbow’: Ada Lovelace and the poetic mystery of science”

Ada Lovelace’s talent to appreciate the beauty of mathematics was exceptional. She realised that maths was a poetical language, and understood the connection between poetry and scientific analysis in ways that transcended her father, Lord Byron’s, talents. Despite the efforts of her mother, Lovelace remained her father’s daughter, and her literary inheritance is apparent with her sonnet, The Rainbow (1851). Concealed beneath the fragmented pages of the sonnet, held in the British Library archives, are the drafts of alternative lines that have fallen into scholarly neglect. These thoughts illuminate the intellect of a woman who was not supposed to be interested in such ideas as algorithms or science.

This paper will explore the relationship between poetry and the mystery of science by unweaving the Lovelace Rainbow. In considering the accusation by John Keats in 1817 that Isaac Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by ‘reducing it to the prismatic colours’, this paper will trace a poetic arc from the rainbow-sided monster of Lamia (1819) to Lovelace’s multihued and mournful progeny. This will unleash The Rainbow’s suppressed voice, and suggest fresh ways of understanding the interplay between Victorian science and cultural conceptions of emotion.

Katherine Platt is an assistant curator at the Science Museum in London.  She recently jointly curated and developed content for the Science Museum’s Ada Lovelace exhibition, which runs until the end of March 2016. She is also a History of Science PhD student at the University of Manchester.

“Lovelace at the Science Museum”

There are a number of challenges when constructing an exhibition narrative about Ada Lovelace, not least because she divides opinion. Some celebrate her as the first computer programmer while others dismiss her mathematical ability. These tensions are particularly visible in the contradictory ways in which she has been portrayed in historical biography. In planning the small exhibition to celebrate Lovelace’s bicentenary, currently open at the Science Museum, the exhibition team had to account for these tensions, but also a number of other issues specific to the Museum setting, from the question of how to physically represent Ada’s ideas, experiences, and personality, to practical issues such as space and design.

This paper examines these challenges, how and why we chose to approach them as we did, and what we hope the exhibition has achieved. Facing these challenges resulted in a two-pronged analytical approach; firstly to put Lovelace firmly within the changing scientific and industrial context of her time, and secondly, to examine her in her own terms by exploring her work on Babbage’s Analytical Engine and her plans for personal scientific professionalisation. We hope that this has allowed us to collate a unique grouping of objects and letters and to address Ada’s role as a woman in science while maintaining a sense of her character and seriously examining her motivations and mathematical contribution.


Madelaine Schurch is a PhD Candidate in English Literature at the University of York. Having completed her MSt at Oxford University in 2015, her PhD thesis focuses on women’s writing and science popularization in late eighteenth-century social networks, under the supervision of Mary Fairclough.

“Ada Lovelace, mania and visionary scientific imagination”

This paper considers Ada Lovelace’s episodes of mania, how they facilitate her visionary scientific imagination, and influence our understanding of scientific creativity. Mania, in concept or actuality, persisted throughout Lovelace’s life, apparently incongruous with her mathematical thinking. Her mother prescribed her mathematical exercises to divert her mind from manic tendencies as a child, and in later letters Lovelace explains the adverse relationship between manic episodes and productivity. Her biographers have downplayed her manic thought patterns, or framed them as a hindrance or distraction from her mathematical thinking.[1] Yet a close analysis of her 1844 letters, showing her tendency towards hyperbole and expansive language, symptomatic of mania, reveals thought patterns which underpin her “ability to have both a broad vision of the future as well as being grounded in the subject”: her “poetical science”.[2] Her letters reveal that while her manic thought patterns may have hindered immediate mathematic productivity, they facilitated her visionary scientific imagination. Recent psychological studies have confirmed the association between manic mental states and artistic creativity; episodes of mania are commonplace amongst artistic thinkers, but are considered incongruous with methodological scientific thought.[3] Lovelace’s visionary scientific imagination, as a product of her mania, challenges the differences in celebrated modes of thinking in the arts and the sciences, enabling us to reconsider the advantages of non-linear thought patterns in scientific endeavor.

Jane Waite has recently started a part time PhD at Queen Mary University London looking at how children learn computational thinking. At the same time she works for King’s College London as the regional project manager coordinating Computing At School’s work in London. She is a qualified primary teacher, having ten years’ experience in education and twenty years’ experience in the IT industry. In 2014/15 she was an author on the Barefoot project, writing resources that demystified the new primary computing curriculum. She also writes for cs4fn, contributing a number of articles for the recent Ada magazine.


“Mrs Lovelace teaches Year 2 Computing”

As an educator, mathematician and computer scientist, Ada would have been in great demand today. Computing teachers are in short supply, bursaries tempt developers to teach GCSE computing, nationwide government initiatives coax primary teachers into the world of Jeanette Wing’s computational thinking.

In England, we have a new computing curriculum, in which algorithms are taught to six year olds, ten year olds name variables (hopefully distinctly) and teens grapple with abstraction.

Countess Lovelace liked to keep up with the newest ideas, writing to Faraday, chatting with Babbage at swanky parties. When teaching, she used coloured pens to teach concepts (user interface design) and demanded careful labelling (abstraction). She saw the analytical engine as more than just a number cruncher saying “it weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves”.

How would Ada have taught young wards today? Imagine you are six years old and the Countess is your teacher, today in 2015, on her birthday. It is 2pm and time for some unplugged computing.

In this workshop, you will learn about computational thinking in the same way that teachers and primary pupils do today using Barefoot Computing activities. An alligator, some drawing and fun. As we find out about algorithms and abstraction we will reflect on what Ada might have thought.

[1] Doris Langley Moore, Ada: Countess of Lovelace, Byron’s Legitimate Daughter (London: John Murray, 1977); Dorothy Stein, Ada, A Life and Legacy (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1985); James Essinger, Female Genius: How Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s Daughter, Started the Computer Age (London: Gibson Square, 2014).

[2] Lovelace Papers, British Library, Add MS 72096: 1789-1961; Betty Alexandra Toole, Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Poetical Science (Mill Valley, California: Strawberry Press, 1992).

[3] Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire (New York: The Free Press, 1993);

Kay Redfield Jamison and Frederick K. Goodwin, Creativity: Manic-Depressive Illness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); James H. MacCabe, The Extremes of the Bell Curve: Excellent and Poor School Performance and Risk for Severe Mental Disorders (New York: Psychology Press, 2010).


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