Historical Soap Operas

Babbage's difference engine.Image courtesy of Larry Johnson. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

My mother’s memorial service was this past Saturday. That is not what this blog entry is about.

Instead, I want to talk about what I’ve been reading lately. It’s a biography of Ada Lovelace with the delightful title, Bride of Science.

Ada Lovelace, for those of you who spent high school not learning about the history of science, is widely considered to be the first computer programmer in history. She worked out proto-programs for Charles Babbage‘s difference engine, which–for those of you not familiar with it–is what happens when steam punk enthusiasts build a computer. Babbage was never able to build the entire thing, though he was eventually vindicated in 1991 when some English historians built one with the advantage of modern mold casting for the parts (covered in this biography, which I read last year, and which is interesting for that alone).

As the biography points out, in her own day, Ada Lovelace was far more famous for her parentage. She was the daughter of the poet Byron, the rockstar of his day, and her parents’ separation proceedings were the basis for some of the beginnings of what looks–to the modern reader–very much like modern celebrity culture.

I picked the biography partially because I enjoy reading about scientists, particularly women scientists. More than that, though, I have a deep and abiding love for science biographies from right around the time period where Ada Lovelace lived. Because there was So Much Science happening at that time, and scientific circles were confined to a series of fairly related genteel families, there are plenty of fascinating people about whom one can read. And–the part that’s fun for me–they show up in each other’s stories. Continue reading