Creative Commons licensed photograph, "Underwood," by Flickr user Canned Muffins

Reclaiming Lovelace & Babagge

A Pocket Universe

Choose one of the questions below and reflect on it in writing for the first 15 minutes of class. If you touched on similar ideas in your class prep, feel free to borrow prose as you write. I would like you to home in on at least one specific moment from Padua’s Lovelace and Babbage (with page number) as evidence while you write.

  1. We have spent much of this class thinking about the structure of textual media—the ways that physical, technological, and design aspects of texts shape the messages they convey, and our responses to them as readers and critics. How might we apply some of those insights to Padua’s book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage? How does the media of this book shape what we learn about Lovelace and Babbage as historical figures, as well as about Lovelace and Babbage as literary characters? You may attend to any formal aspect of the book in your answer, but should focus on how form interplays with content.
  2. In our last discussion of The Information, we began to think about the ways that Lovelace and Babbage alike have been recovered in recent media, and in histories of computing. That recovery arguably began with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s alternative history The Difference Engine (1990)—which is also often credited with originating the steampunk genre—and has since accelerated, so that today both are common characters in popular as well as academic cultures. Drawing on Padua’s specific contribution to this recovery, reflect on its meaning in our current cultural moment. Lovelace and Babbage’s machine was largely a failure, and does not fall in a direct genetic line to modern computers. Imaginatively, however, we do make this connection, often through the lens of alternative histories that portray an unbroken thread from the Victorian era to Silicon Valley. What cultural work do these alternative histories do? Why do we tell them, and why do we tell this specific one so often?