One way of reading the history of Lovelace and Babbage is to mark their collaboation as a failed technological experiment (as Padua notes on page 29). The accomplishments of the Difference Engine were relatively modest, while the Analytical Engine was never completed. Recently, however, the history of Lovelace and Babbage has been recovered in many ways: Padua’s book, other popular histories such as Gleick, or even in the establishment of Ada Lovelace Day, “an international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.” Padua’s graphic novel goes even farther, constructing an alternate history in which Lovelace and Babbage’s vision jump-started the computer age nearly 100 years early (a similar premise to William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine).
Focusing on Padua’s book, what do we make of this reclamation and reimagination of Lovelace and Babbage? Why are we attracted to these particular historical figures? What social, cultural, or imaginative work are they doing for our computer age? How does an alternative nineteenth century help us think about the twenty-first century?