The College of Arts and Letters Hosts World's First Conference Celebrating the Achievements of Ada Lovelace

10/22/2013

On October 18, 2013, the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology hosted the world’s first conference celebrating the achievements and legacy of Ada Lovelace. The conference heralded a recent resurgence in Lovelace scholarship thanks to the growth of interdisciplinary thinking and the expanding influence of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Presenters spoke about Lovelace’s many achievements as well as the impact of her life and work, which reverberated through the sciences and humanities since the late nineteenth century. To begin the proceedings, conference organizer Robin Hammerman (Teaching Assistant Professor, Writing and Communication) welcomed the attendees, many of whom were visiting Stevens for the first time. Lisa Dolling (Dean, College of Arts and Letters) offered opening remarks during which attendees enjoyed a video message for the conference from James Essinger, whose Ada Lovelace biography was recently released in the U.K. The first panel covered topics in computer science including genderless online discourse, the emergence of women in computing during the twentieth-century in Turkey and Israel, and groundbreaking work in biology and computing currently being researched by women. The panel included Stevens computer science professor Adriana Compagnoni, who presented a paper entitled, “Recent Innovative Connections in Biology and Computing.” 

Following this session, Andrew Russell (Assistant Professor, History; Program Director, Science and Technology Studies) moderated a panel of papers exclusively devoted to the genre of Steampunk literature. The panelists delivered papers regarding various representations and meanings of steampunk and they pointed to larger social implications of the genre. All panelists mentioned The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1989) as a key Steampunk text, including Lee Vinsel (Assistant Professor, Science and Technology Studies), who presented a lively paper on the novel entitled, “Why were Two 30-to-40 Something Science Fiction Writers Dreaming About a ‘Victorian Internet’ in 1989?”.

The Plenary Lecture was delivered by Dr. Tom Misa, Director of the Charles Babbage Institute and Professor of History and the University of Minnesota. Professor Misa offered conference attendees a unique glimpse into the world of collaboration between Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in the composition of what has been frequently called the first computer program. Following the plenary lecture, a session celebrating Ada-inspired arts was moderated by Jeff Thompson (Program Director, Visual Arts and Technology) and included a roundtable conversation featuring Sydney Padua, creator of the popular webcomic 2D Goggles. The final session of conference panels was moderated by Anthony Pennino (Assistant Professor, Literature; Theater and Technology) and featured aspects of Ada in the literary world, including her friendship with Charles Dickens and other authors. 

Keynote speaker Valerie Aurora, Executive Director and co-founder of the Ada Lovelace Initiative, a non-profit collective founded in 2011 to promote women in open technology and culture, delivered a lecture entitled “Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos”. The keynote address, which was also part of the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership, highlighted the importance of Ada Lovelace to the computing industry as well as the study of humanities. Aurora examined the representations of Lovelace by biographers and historians of science from the Victorian era to the near present. She suggested that the time is ripe for us in the present to create a new narrative about Ada Lovelace and the audience was invited to participate in this process. She then called for a detailed history of all Victorian female mathematicians to understand the strong connection between women and computing.

About Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense and STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.