Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace—Stephen Wolfram Blog

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace—Stephen Wolfram Blog:

In other words, she basically proposed to take on the role of CEO, with Babbage becoming CTO. It wasn’t an easy pitch to make, especially given Babbage’s personality. But she was skillful in making her case, and as part of it, she discussed their different motivation structures. She wrote, ‘My own uncompromising principle is to endeavour to love truth & God before fame & glory …’, while ‘Yours is to love truth & God … but to love fame, glory, honours, yet more.’ Still, she explained, ‘Far be it from me, to disclaim the influence of ambition & fame. No living soul ever was more imbued with it than myself … but I certainly would not deceive myself or others by pretending it is other than a very important motive & ingredient in my character & nature.’

She ended the letter, ‘I wonder if you will choose to retain the lady-fairy in your service or not.’

(Via JWZ.)

Stephen Wolfram tries to unravel the mystery of Ada Lovelace, pioneering mathematician and computer scientist. Most of what’s popularly known about her accomplishments could fit on the back of a very nerdy (and highly desirable) trading card, and even that’s become sort of muddled.

Wolfram dives in to her research and writings by examining primary documents, including original letters between Lovelace and Babbage. It’s a lonnnng read (and to tell the truth, I’ve only gotten through half of it so far) but engrossing.

It helps to show the limitations of Google. It can only find things that are easy to keyword, and even there, it can only find things that have been made digital. Furthermore, the abstraction of the data into ASCII letters poured the content area of a webpage adds distance between the researcher and the person they’re researching.

I myself had had the profoundly satisfying experience of depositing all of my possessions except for an iPad into a locker and then being shown to a table in a research library, where bundles of 19th-century documents have been laid out for me. Even when I was looking at a letter whose contents I’d already read, nicely-formatted, in an academic journal, I lingered over it for a good while. Here was the actual letter, hand-written by the subject of my research, that marked a pivotal event.

From his hand, to my hands; it made history “real” in a way that clean, simple facts couldn’t.

1 thought on “Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace—Stephen Wolfram Blog”

  1. Andy, you have hit on the precise reason why primary source research is so important. Holding and reading material written by the person’s hand give you an insight into their character and personality that a web page, no matter how well done, will never have.

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