Tag Archives: Lord Byron

Frankenstein and Switzerland in 2016

The Frankenstein Bicentennial celebration is in process as various events and projects are now being launched. In a Nov. 12, 2015 posting I made mention of the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project 1818-2018 at Arizona State University (ASU; scroll down about 15% of the way),

… the Transmedia Museum (Frankenstein Bicentennial Project 1818-2018).  This project is being hosted by Arizona State University. From the project homepage,

No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral consequences than Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s enduring tale of creation and responsibility. The novel’s themes and tropes—such as the complex dynamic between creator and creation—continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. Frankenstein continues to influence the way we confront emerging technologies, conceptualize the process of scientific research, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.

The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will infuse science and engineering endeavors with considerations of ethics. It will use the power of storytelling and art to shape processes of innovation and empower public appraisal of techno-scientific research and creation. It will offer humanists and artists a new set of concerns around research, public policy, and the ramifications of exploration and invention. And it will inspire new scientific and technological advances inspired by Shelley’s exploration of our inspiring and terrifying ability to bring new life into the world. Frankenstein represents a landmark fusion of science, ethics, and literary expression.

The bicentennial provides an opportunity for vivid reflection on how science is culturally framed and understood by the public, as well as our ethical limitations and responsibility for nurturing the products of our creativity. It is also a moment to unveil new scientific and technological marvels, especially in the areas of synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. Engaging with Frankenstein allows scholars and educators, artists and writers, and the public at large to consider the history of scientific invention, reflect on contemporary research, and question the future of our technological society. Acting as a network hub for the bicentennial celebration, ASU will encourage and coordinate collaboration across institutions and among diverse groups worldwide.

2016 Frankenstein events

Now, there’s an exhibition in Switzerland where Frankenstein was ‘born’ according to a May 12, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Frankenstein, the story of a scientist who brings to life a cadaver and causes his own downfall, has for two centuries given voice to anxiety surrounding the unrelenting advance of science.

To mark the 200 years since England’s Mary Shelley first imagined the ultimate horror story during a visit to a frigid, rain-drenched Switzerland, an exhibit opens in Geneva Friday called “Frankenstein, Creation of Darkness”.

In the dimly-lit, expansive basement at the Martin Bodmer Foundation, a long row of glass cases holds 15 hand-written, yellowed pages from a notebook where Shelley in 1816 wrote the first version of what is considered a masterpiece of romantic literature.

The idea for her “miserable monster” came when at just 18 she and her future husband, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, went to a summer home—the Villa Diodati—rented by literary great Lord Byron on the outskirts of Geneva.

The current private owners of the picturesque manor overlooking Lake Geneva will also open their lush gardens to guided tours during the nearby exhibit which runs to October 9 [May 13 – Oct. 9, 2016].

While the spot today is lovely, with pink and purple lilacs spilling from the terraces and gravel walkways winding through rose-covered arches, in the summer of 1816 the atmosphere was more somber.

A massive eruption from the Tambora volcano in Indonesia wreaked havoc with the global climate that year, and a weather report for Geneva in June on display at the exhibit mentions “not a single leaf” had yet appeared on the oak trees.

To pass the time, poet Lord Byron challenged the band of literary bohemians gathered at the villa to each invent a ghost story, resulting in several famous pieces of writing.

English doctor and author John Polidori came up with the idea for “The Vampyre”, which was published three years later and is considered to have pioneered the romantic vampyre genre, including works like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

That book figures among a multitude of first editions at the Geneva exhibit, including three of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”—the most famous story to emerge from the competition.

Here’s a description of the exhibit, from the Martin Bodmer Foundation’s Frankenstein webpage,

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the writing of this historically influential work of literature, the Martin Bodmer Foundation presents a major exhibition on the origins of Frankenstein, the perspectives it opens and the questions it raises.

A best seller since its first publication in 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel continues to demand attention. The questions it raises remain at the heart of literary and philosophical concerns: the ethics of science, climate change, the technologisation of the human body, the unconscious, human otherness, the plight of the homeless and the dispossessed.

The exposition Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness recreates the beginnings of the novel in its first manuscript and printed forms, along with paintings and engravings that evoke the world of 1816. A variety of literary and scientific works are presented as sources of the novel’s ideas. While exploring the novel’s origins, the exhibition also evokes the social and scientific themes of the novel that remain important in our own day.

For what it’s worth, I have come across analyses which suggest science and technology may not have been the primary concern at the time. There are interpretations which suggest issues around childbirth (very dangerous until modern times) and fear of disfigurement and disfigured individuals. What makes Frankenstein and the book so fascinating is how flexible interpretations can be. (For more about Frankenstein and flexibility, read Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s 2009 book, Frankenstein: a cultural history.)

There’s one more upcoming Frankenstein event, from The Frankenstein Bicentennial announcement webpage,

On June 14 and 15, 2016, the Brocher Foundation, Arizona State University, Duke University, and the University of Lausanne will host “Frankenstein’s Shadow,” a symposium in Geneva, Switzerland to commemorate the origin of Frankenstein and assess its influence in different times and cultures, particularly its resonance in debates about public policy governing biotechnology and medicine. These dates place the symposium almost exactly 200 years after Mary Shelley initially conceived the idea for Frankenstein on June 16, 1816, and in almost exactly the same geographical location on the shores of Lake Geneva.

If you’re interested in details such as the programme schedule, there’s this PDF,

Frankenstein¹s_ShadowConference

Enjoy!

Ada Lovelace “… manipulative, aggressive, a drug addict …” and a genius but was she likable?

Ada Lovelace Day! Yes, it’s today, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, the day after Thanksgiving.  (You can check out my Oct. 14, 2014 posting for a brief Ada Lovelace history and information about an opera based on her life.)

Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson and 2015 seems to have been a banner year for Lovelace where 200th anniversary of her birth is being celebrated not only with a Day featuring events around the world but also with an exhibit  in the Science Museum (London, UK) and a documentary on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). An Oct. 12, 2015 article by Zoe Kleinman for BBC news online features both the exhibit and the documentary (Note: A link has been removed),

An exhibition showcasing the work and life of Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace opens at the Science Museum in London this week [on Oct. 13, 2015].

The small exhibition includes a working model of the machine, which was never built because of funding issues.

Also on display is a lock of her hair.

Ada Lovelace was often unwell and was prescribed the opiate laudanum, to be taken with wine, by her doctor.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and mathematician Annabella Milbanke.

“Intelligent she might have been, but she was also manipulative and aggressive, a drug addict, a gambler and an adulteress,” said mathematician Hannah Fry, who made a BBC documentary about her.

Hannah Fry has written an essay about Lovelace and what she discovered while making the documentary that can be found here,

I need to make a confession. Before starting this film, intrigued as I was by her story, I questioned if Ada Lovelace truly deserved the pedestal on which she has been placed by modern scientists and mathematicians. I wondered if she is really worthy of standing as a symbol for our subject. One thing is in little doubt. Ada’s story is a captivating tale.

The 19th century amateur mathematician, best known for her detailed notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, is often held up as a symbol for women in science. Never more so now than in the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Alongside the character flaws, there are also some who still debate the validity of Ada’s accomplishments.

The machine which Ada prophesised could create music was Babbage’s invention after all – surely he must have known it’s potential?

Although she certainly published the world’s first computer programme, can we be sure she was its author. In any case, the machine was never built. Her work ultimately had no tangible impact on the world whatsoever.

For me, Doron [Doron Swade – an expert in the history of computing and, while a curator at the Science Museum in London, the man responsible for bringing Babbage’s Difference Engine to life] also put an end to the discussion of Lovelace’s contribution. Her notes and letters to Babbage make it clear that Ada understood the potential of computers in a way that he never did, and that nobody ever had. In Doron’s words:

“This is not a suggestive hint. This is not a backwards projection. This is Lovelace thumping the table saying this is what is significant about this machine “

Calculated conclusion

Her foresight was so extraordinary that it would take another hundred years and Alan Turing to recognise the significance of her work. But it was an achievement that was probably as much a product of her artistic heritage as her scientific training.

Fry experienced a revelation while working on the documentary,

I think I’d become so used to expecting my role models to be unnaturally perfect people and elevating them to unachievably high levels that I couldn’t see why Ada deserved to be there.

But in making this programme I’ve realised that I was thinking about things in the wrong way.

Ada was very, very far from perfect, but perfection is not a pre-requisite to accomplishing something impressive. Our science role models shouldn’t always be there to celebrate the unachievable.

We should also be normalising the mundane and the ordinary – embracing our flaws and our failures. And that’s exactly why she is the ideal inspirational figure.

Sadly, the sentiment about acceptance is undercut by the essay’s sidebar, Who was Ada Lovelace?,

She was a contradiction: self-centred and obstinate, yet lacking in confidence; charismatic and enchanting, yet forceful and manipulative.

Ultimately, Ada was probably quite a difficult person to like. [emphasis mine]

It’s 200 years later and women still have to be concerned with likability. Even Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) worries about it as she notes in the Oct. 13, 2015 issue (no. 3) of Lenny (Lena Dunham’s [Girls tv series]  newsletter) h/t Laineygossip,

… if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.” This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years? I’m seriously asking — my phone is on the counter and I’m on the couch, so a calculator is obviously out of the question. Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?

She acknowledges that she’s well paid by any standard but she’s pointing out that her male colleagues don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll be liked or viewed as difficult when they negotiate or even when they express an opinion,

A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.

… Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.

Bringing it back to the topic of science, how often does a male scientist get described as “a difficult person to like.” It would take more than drug addiction, adultery, stating an opinion in a forthright fashion, and/or being manipulative for a man to earn that label.

Getting back to Ada and the celebrations, there’s an Oct. 12, 2015 preview of her Science Museum exhibit by Nicola Davis for the Guardian (Note: A link has been removed),

In the bowels of London’s Science Museum, Dr Tilly Blyth gingerly opens an envelope. Inside is a lock of long, dark hair tied with a green ribbon. It’s a curiously poignant moment. The lively, intelligent woman to whom it belonged died young, but her mathematical work with computer pioneer Charles Babbage has seen her become a paragon for women in science and technology. Gazing down at the tresses, the centuries seem to shrink away. Ladies and gentlemen, Ada Lovelace is in the room.

The exhibit opens today, October 13, 2015 and runs until March 31, 2016. You can find out more here.

Here’s my favourite Ada Lovelace image; it’s being used in the exhibit’s promotional materials,

AdaLovelace

Courtesy Science Museum (London, UK)

You can find out more about Ada Lovelace Day 2015 events such as the annual flagship event on the findingada.com website,

This year, our our annual flagship event is being hosted by the Conway Hall Ethical Society at Conway Hall, Holborn, on the evening of 13 October. Confirmed speakers include Mars Rover engineer Abigail Hutty, astrophysicist and science communicator Dr Jen Gupta, nanochemist Dr Suze Kundu, our very own Suw Charman-Anderson. Our compère again this year is the inimitable Helen Arney. Tickets cost £20 (general entry), £5 (concessions), and are available now!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace Day tomorrow: Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014

Tomorrow you can celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2014. A remarkable thinker, Lovelace (1815 – 1852) suggested computers could be used to create music and art, as well as, other practical activities. By the way, Her father was the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ poet, Lord Byron who called her mother, Anna Isabelle Millbank (she had a complex set of names and titles), the ‘princess of parallelograms’ due to her (Millbank’s) interest in mathematics.

Thanks to David Bruggeman and an Oct. 8, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I’ve found out about some events planned for this year’s Ada Lovelace Day before the fact rather than the ‘day of’ as I did last year (Oct. 15, 2013 post).

Here’s more from David’s Oct. 8, 2014 post (Note: Links have been removed),

In New York City, one of the commemorations of Ada Lovelace Day involves an opera on her life.  Called Ada, selections will be performed on October 14 [2014].

You can find out more about the opera and the performance on David’s blog post, which also includes video clips from a rehearsal for the opera and comments from the librettist and the composer.

Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. While Charman-Anderson’s Ada Lovelace website doesn’t offer an up-to-date history of the event, there is this about the 2012 celebration (from the History of Ada Lovelace Day page),

… In all, there were 25 independently-organised grassroots events in the UK, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden and the USA, as well as online.

This year’s event includes:

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Write about an inspiring woman in STEM

Every year we encourage you to take part, no matter where you are, by writing something about a woman, or women, in STEM whose achievements you admire. When your blog post is ready, you can add it to our list, and once we’re properly underway, you’ll be able to browse our list to see who inspires other people!

Ada Lovelace Day Live!

Tickets are now on sale for our amazing evening event [in London, England], featuring mathematician Dr Hannah Fry, musician Caro C, structural engineer Roma Agrawal, geneticist Dr Turi King, TV presenter Konnie Huq, artist Naomi Kashiwagi, technologists Steph Troeth, physicist Dr Helen Czerski and hosted by our inimitable ALD [Ada Lovelace Day] Live producer, Helen Arney!

This event is free for Ri  [Royal Institution] Members and Fellows, £6 for Ri Associates, £8 for Concessions and £12 for everyone else. Buy your tickets nowfind out more about the event or see accessibility information for the venue.

Ada Lovelace Day for Schools

The support of the Ri has this year allowed us to put together an afternoon event for 11 – 16 year olds, exploring the role and work of women in STEM. Speakers include sustainability innovator Rachel Armstrong, neuroscientist Sophie Scott, mathematician Hannah Fry, roboticist and theremin player Sarah Angliss, engineer Roma Agrawal, and dwarf mammoth expert Victoria Herridge, and is hosted by our very own Helen Arney! Tickets cost £3 per person, and are on sale now! [London, England] Find out more about the event or see accessibility information for the venue.

The organizers are currently running an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (Ada Lovelace Day Live! 2014) to raise £2,000 to cover costs for videography and photography of the events in London, England. They have progressed to a little over 1/2 way towards their goal. The last day to contribute is Oct. 27, 2014.

One last tidbit, James Essinger’s book, Ada’s Algorithm, is being released on Oct. 14, 2014 in the US. The book was published last year in the UK. Sophia Stuart, in an Oct. 10, 2014 article for PC Magazine about the upcoming US release of Essinger’s book, wrote this,

A natural affinity for computer programming requires an unusual blend of arts and sciences; from appreciating the beauty of mathematics and the architectural composition of language via a vision for engineering, coupled with a meticulous attention to detail (and an ability to subsist on little sleep).

Ada Lovelace, considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, fits the profile perfectly, and is the subject of James Essinger’s book Ada’s Algorithm. Ada’s mother was a gifted mathematician and her father was the poet Lord Byron. In 1828, at the age of 12, Ada was multi-lingual while also teaching herself geometry, sketching plans for self-powered flight by studying birds and their wingspan, and imagining the future of aviation 75 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

“In the form of a horse with a steamengine in the inside so contrived as to move an immense pair of wings,” she wrote in an April 7, 1828 letter to her mother.

Don’t forget, Ada Lovelace Day is tomorrow and perhaps in honour of her you can give your imagination permission to fly free for at least a moment or two.

Happy Thanksgiving today, Oct. 13, 2014 for Canadians of all stripes, those who were born here, those who are citizens (past and present), and those who choose to be Canadian in spirit for a day.