Computing Profession

Oxford Celebrates 200th Birthday of Ada Lovelace

A portrait of Ada Lovelace painted by Alfred Edward Chalon in 1839.
Various institutions at the University of Oxford are planning to celebrations in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace.

This year, the University of Oxford will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of computer visionary Ada Lovelace.

The centerpieces of the celebration will be a display at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library (to run Oct. 29 through Dec. 18) and a symposium on Dec. 9 and 10 presenting Lovelace’s life and work in the context of contemporary thinking on computing and artificial intelligence.

Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852), is best known for a remarkable article she wrote about Charles Babbage’s unbuilt computer, the Analytical Engine. This presented the first documented computer program, designed to calculate Bernoulli numbers, and explained the  ideas underlying Babbage’s  machine – which similarly underlies every one of the billions of computers and computer programs in use today. Going  beyond Babbage’s ideas of computers as manipulating numbers, Lovelace also wrote about computers’ creative possibilities and limits; her contribution was highlighted in one of Alan Turing’s most famous papers, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," as "can a machine think?"

Lovelace had wide scientific and intellectual interests, and studied with Scottish science writer and polymath Mary Somerville, and with Augustus De Morgan, a leading mathematician and a pioneer in logic and algebra.

The display in the Bodleian’s new Weston Library will provide the public the opportunity to see Lovelace’s correspondence with Babbage, De Morgan, Somerville and others, and her childhood exercises and  mathematical notes. 

The  Symposium will be aimed at a broad audience interested in the history and culture of mathematics and computer science, and will present current scholarship on Lovelace’s life and work, and link her ideas to contemporary thinking about computing, artificial intelligence, and the brain. Confirmed speakers so far include Lovelace biographer Betty Toole, computer historian Doron Swade, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, and graphic novelist Sydney Padua.

Other activities will include a workshop for early career researchers, a "Music and Machines" event, and a dinner at Oxford’s Balliol College on Dec. 9, the eve of Lovelace’s 200th birthday.

Oxford’s celebration is led by the Bodleian Libraries and the University of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, working with colleagues in the Mathematics Institute, Oxford e-Research Centre, Somerville College,  the Department of English and TORCH. Oxford has a remarkable history of programming research, with two winners of the Turing Award, the Nobel Prize for Computer Science, and the unique breadth and depth of Oxford’s expertise brings a variety of perspectives to understanding Lovelace and the remarkable intellectual community around her, whose ideas underpin modern computing.

For more information or to register your interest, please visit

Further Celebration

In addition, on Oct. 16, Oxford’s Sommerville College will host the Ada Lovelace Bicentenary: Celebrating Women in Computer Science, a celebration of the life of the mathematician and scientific visionary, as well as a celebration of women in science more generally. The event will be open to alumni and students from across the university as well as to current students and Fellows of the College, and to secondary school students and teachers; there will also be a limited allocation of tickets for members of the general public. The event will take place in the Flora Anderson Hall of Somerville College. Speakers will include:

Widom and Martin will deliver the celebration’s keynote addresses.

Somerville College also will exhibit materials from Ada Lovelace’s literary life (she exchanged letters with her tutor, Mary Somerville, for a number of years).

Somerville College’s Ada Lovelace Bicentenary Celebration will be chaired by Mason Porter, tutor in Applied Mathematics at Somerville College.

For more information about attending Sommerville College’s Ada Lovelace Bicentenary Celebration, please contact Barbara Raleigh.

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