Steampunk Month

An Ode to Lady Ada

So I was kind of calculating in my head the awesome personages involved in steampunk, right after Queen Victoria, who isn’t even a steampunk personage–the era is named after her because she ruled so bloody long–and I was trying to see if who we could look up to, all told.

And like in many other fields, the names of men generally dominate the lists of greats, and there aren’t many. It’s a bit depressing. So today, I want to devote a bit of attention to Lady Ada, born Augusta Ada Byron, later Countess of Lovelace, actual girl genius of the Victorian era.

Sydney Padua has a pretty good brief biography of Ada Lovelace, which you should totally go read if you haven’t already. Wait, we’ve already said that. Never mind, I’ll say it again!

Ada Lovelace is best known for being the first person to see the potential of the prototype computers Charles Babbages was cooking up as tools beyond mere calculating machines. She was a whiz at mathematics, and wrote a program for a machine that Babbage never ended up building. As such, she’s now recognized as being the “first computer programmer,” even writing up a sketch of the Analytical Engine that Babbage never built. Babbage himself referred to her as the Enchantress of Numbers (n’aww, so dreamy!).

Which is pretty remarkable, if you consider the amount of macho nonsense that goes on in most computer programming circles today.

Ada Lovelace had her faults, of course. She loved gambling, and I’m sure she was ghastly to some people in her life. In the Difference Engine, she’s depicted as a drug addict and compulsive gambler.

There’s a movie about her called Conceiving Ada, directed by Lynn Hershmann Leeson, starring Tilda Swinton as Ada Lovelace. A new movie will be airing on the PBS channel in the States called Byron and Babbage: A Calculating Story, which is a sort of documentary based on Ada Lovelace’s letters.

There is a Lovelace Medal awarded by the British Computing Society to people who contribute significantly to the field of Information Systems, and the United States Department of Defense’s computer language is named Ada after her.

March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day! It was started this year in order to recognize the contributions of women in the field of [any kind of] technology. With any luck, it’ll be an annual event.

Because Ada Lovelace is kick-ass. Not only did she invent computer programming, she was also one of the first people to understand that mental illnesses were neurological disorders, and spent a great deal of her time towards her death researching neuroscience.

I know this hasn’t really been a very steampunk-y post, what with the reminder that Lady Ada Lovelace died when she was only 36, but you know, we hear about Charles Babbage everywhere in the steam-realm, and we can’t have a conversation about Charles Babbage without Lady Ada, okay? Because she was the first person to ever make sense of his big idea that was way ahead of his time, and she was way ahead of her time too.

I hope you all enjoyed the links!

Jha used to love math but cannot really perform any complicated equations to save her own life. So she settles for admiring women who can.


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