Bodleian Libraries celebrates Ada Lovelace's 200th birthday with free display and Wikipedia editathons

8 October 2015

The Bodleian Libraries is hosting a special display to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace, the Victorian mathematician who is often referred to as the first computer programmer.

Members of the public are invited to learn more about this tech visionary by visiting the free display, which runs from 13 October-20 December in the Weston Library. As part of the celebrations, the Bodleian is also hosting a series of Wikipedia editathon events, which are open to anyone Image of Ada Lovelace cartoon by Sydney Paduainterested in improving public understanding of women in science. 

Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the daughter of the renowned poet Lord Byron and is best known for her remarkable article about Charles Babbage's unbuilt computer, the Analytical Engine. Her article presented the first documented computer program, showing how the engine could calculate the Bernoulli numbers. It also explained the ideas underlying Babbage's machine - and every one of the billions of computers and computer programs in use today. Her contribution was highlighted in one of Alan Turing's most famous papers 'Can a machine think?' Lovelace had wide scientific and intellectual interests and studied with scientist Mary Somerville as well as with Augustus De Morgan, a leading mathematician and pioneer in logic and algebra.

The Bodleian's display, Ada, Countess of Lovelace: computer pioneer, offers a chance to see Lovelace's correspondence with Babbage and De Morgan, and her childhood exercises, letters and mathematical notes. It features a remarkable new discovery found in the Bodleian's archives - a fascinating manuscript that has the handwriting of both Lovelace and Babbage and shows them working together on mathematical problems such as magic squares and network algorithms - the dawn of 'computational thinking.'

Ursula Martin CBE, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford

'This magical document shows Lovelace and Babbage working at problems together - it's as if you are in the room with them and could pick up your pencil and join in,' said Ursula Martin CBE, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford, who curated the display with Mary Clapinson, former Keeper of Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries.

Martin is leading the University of Oxford's celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Lovelace's birth, which include a symposium on 9-10 December and other events throughout the autumn including music and tech hackathons for adults and children, and workshops. 

Image of Ada Lovelace daguerrotype by Doris Langley MooreRichard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian

'The Bodleian Libraries is delighted to be leading the celebrations of Ada Lovelace's remarkable achievements by showcasing the letters, journals and worksheets held in our collections,' said Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian. 'This is the first time that these items will be on public display and we encourage people to visit the display to learn more about Ada's important role in the development of computer science. By explaining more about her life we hope to inspire a new generation of scientists.'

Ada, Countess of Lovelace: computer pioneer features items from the Bodleian's collection of papers of the Byron and Lovelace families, which were deposited in the Library in the 1970s. The Bodleian has also loaned a selection of letters from this collection to Science Museum in London for their Ada Lovelace exhibition, which opens on 13 October.

Both the Bodleian display and the Science Museum exhibition open on Ada Lovelace Day (13 October), an annual, international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Wikipedia workshops

Following this theme, the Bodleian Libraries and the University of Oxford's IT Services Department are hosting a series of Wikipedia workshops to improve Wikipedia's content about women in science. Four half-day workshops will be held from 12-16 October at IT Services offices in Oxford, and are open to anyone interested in making an impact on Wikipedia's gender imbalance. No wiki editing experience is necessary, although experienced editors are very welcome.

Events include: an edit-a-thon to create new Wikipedia articles related to women in science; an improve-a-thon to improve existing Wikipedia articles on this theme; a transcribe-a-thon usingWikisource to create an electronic edition of a historic book about women geniuses; and an image-a-thon in which participants will illustrate Wikipedia articles with images from various sources.

Image credits: top - Sydney Padua; bottom - Private Collection.

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