Ada Lovelace: Victorian Computer Programmer


On Tuesday, October 19, from 6-7 pm (Mountain time), Erica Haugtvedt (Assistant Professor of Humanities) and Duana Abata (Professor of Mechanical Engineering) will present as part of the STEAM Café series. This free presentation will take place at Hay Camp Brewing Company in downtown Rapid City (601 Kansas City St.) and will also be available to watch via livestream on Zoom. The talk will also be posted to the SD Mines YouTube channel and the SD Mines Facebook page after the event.

Long before today’s pervasive digital computers, the first computer programmer was arguably Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron). An exceptional mathematician, she captured the essence of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which was conceptualized by Babbage but was not constructed in his lifetime. In 1843, she wrote an algorithm to accompany Babbage’s Engine. Her contribution to calculate Bernoulli numbers with the Analytical Engine has since been successfully translated, with minor changes, to the C++ programming language. Dr. Erica Haugtvedt and Dr. Duane Abata will discuss how this extraordinary Victorian woman achieved her insights through translating between languages, people, disciplines, and between the imaginary and the real.

Watercolor portrait of Ada Lovelace. She is standing with her body turned away from the viewer but with her face turned toward us.
Watercolor portrait of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon (ca. 1838)

Learning to See the Land

Environment, Humanities

By Bryce Tellmann

Many, perhaps most, of the students I teach are from the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, all states that are frequently referred to as “Plains States.” (We can spend a lot of time debating the inclusion criteria for a state to qualify as a “Plains State,” but that’s a different post.) At some point in the semester, I usually ask them, as a group, to complete this sentence: “The landscape of my state is ______.” Almost invariably, I am met with a unison chorus of “flat!” or “boring!” This response is more than mere topographical observation.

I grew up in western North Dakota, seeing the landscape much as my students do: essentially flat and nondescript. Not until years later did I realize that I lived in a very dramatic landscape: knuckles of stone push their way out of ancient hills, the last evidence of resistance to glacial domination thousands of years ago. Stretches that appear flat are actually cascading downward, racing toward whatever rare stream or coulee will collect the sparse rainfall. The grass itself frustrates efforts to touch the ground, as one must dig through several inches of dense, matted undergrowth to find soil. This immense complexity is most evident at dawn and dusk, when the extreme angle of sunlight throws easily elided variation into sharp relief.