Ada Lovelace Day: Portraits of Women in Technology

What does a brilliant female scientist look like? In honor of the 2010  Ada Lovelace Day, I went on a hunt through the Filckr Commons and other sources of archival images to see how many portraits of women who have contributed to science and technology I could find.

A few years back I read Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Blink. One of the ideas I took away was the profound impact of the images with which we surround ourselves. He discusses his experience taking an Implicit Association Test (IAT) related to racism and his opinion that surrounding oneself with images of accomplished black leaders can change ones ‘implicit racism’. Project Implicit still continues. I found a demo of the ‘Gender-Science IAT’ and took it (you can too!). “This IAT often reveals a relative link between liberal arts and females and between science and males.” My result? “Your data suggest little or no association between Male and Female with Science and Liberal Arts.” My result was received by 18% of those taking the test. 54% apparently show a strong or moderate automatic association between male and science and female and liberal arts.

My inspiration for this post is to find images of accomplished women in science and technology to help young women and girls fight this ‘automatic association’. How can you imagine yourself into a career when you don’t have role models? Lets find the most varied assortment of images of what female scientists and technologists looks like!

The Smithsonian has an entire set of Women in Science images on the Flickr Commons about which they wrote a fabulous blog post over on their Visual Archives Blog. Consider the difference between the Smithsonian Flickr set of Portraits of Scientists and Inventors and that of Women in Science shown below in my snazzy animated GIF.

For me, the first set goes a long way to associate what a scientist or inventor looks like to images of white men with varying degrees of facial hair. I don’t see myself in that set of photos, even though there are a few women mixed into the set. The Women in Science set shows me women and, even though the images are black and white and reflect the style of another era, I can imagine myself fitting in with them.

Digging into a few specific examples within the ‘Women in Science’ images, on the left below we see research scientist Eloise Gerry who worked for the US Forest Service from 1910 through 1954. The caption from this image is “Dr. Gerry in her laboratory with the microscope that helped give the great naval stores industry in the United States a new lease on life.” On the right we have Physicist Marie Curie.

Over on the website of the Smithsonian’s Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology I found a few more images. On the left we have mathematician Tatiana Ehrenfest, from the first half of the 20th century, and on the right a physicist from the 1700s, marquise du Châtelet, Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil. These were not easy to find – I did in fact skim through all the names and photos listed to find the two shown here.

After thinking a bit about the shortest path to more images of women in science and technology I went onto Freebase.com. I was so pleased to discover how easy it was for me to find entries for computer scientists, then filter by those who were female and had images. This gave me the faces of Female Computer Scientists, including those shown in the screen shot below (and yes, that is Ada Lovelace herself 2nd from the left in the top row).

I was excited to find more images and next I pulled together a list of Female Scientists. Finally a bit more diversity in the faces below (and there are many more images to explore if you click through).

Finally, I put a call out on both Twitter and the DevChix mailing list asking for women to share images of themselves for use in this blog post. Within just a few hours I received photos of Lorna Mitchell (a PHP developer in the UK – photo by Sebastian Bergmann), Aimée Morrison (shown crafting a social multimedia curriculum for DHSI 2010), Kristen Sullivan and a group photo of the DC LinuxChix dinner at ShmooCon.

There are many sources of images of women who have contributed to or are members of the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but one of the best are archives. Consider the photo credits page for the website dedicated to Biographies of Women Mathematicians which credits 9 different archives for images used on the site.

Images are so powerful. The preservation of images of women like those mentioned above is happening in archives around the world. The more of these images that we can collect and present in a unified way, the more young women can see themselves in the faces of those who came before. It sounds so simple, but imagine the impact of a website that showed face after face of women in science and tech. Of course I would want a short bio too and the ability to filter the images by specialty, location and date. I think that Freebase.com could be a great place to focus efforts. Their APIs should make it easy to leverage images and all the structured data about women in tech that we could possibly dream to collect. I know that many of the posts created today will feature photos of amazing tech women, how do we organize to collect them in one place? Who wants to help?

If you know of additional archival collections including images of tech women, please let me know!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone!

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Posted on 24th March 2010
Under: diversity, historical research, photography, virtual collaboration, what if | 5 Comments » | Print This Post Print This Post

5 Responses to “Ada Lovelace Day: Portraits of Women in Technology”

  1. Blythe Says:

    Innovative and excellent idea. I’ll remember if I find good source material.

  2. Sarah Shreeves Says:

    The NSA Cryptologic Museum has a wonderful exhibit on the history of women in the NSA and in cryptography. They have some images off of this page: http://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic_heritage/women/index.shtml. If you click on each image there’s more information.

    If anyone gets a chance to go the museum, it’s worth the trip (it’s in Maryland right next to the NSA itself).

  3. Colleen Says:

    A good friend who is a woman and a scientist has a daughter who is six. This friend has many friends who are women and who are scientists. The friend’s husband is in the military. One day my friend’s daughter asked her why girls were so much better at science than boys. As I woman scientist, I could not have been happier.

    Maybe things are changing.

  4. Ada Lovelace Day- Majd Matta, Mother, Scientist, Grad Student, Astronaut « Rocket Scientista Says:

    […] a wonderful post up including portraits of women in technology through the ages, there’s a post up from a woman who admires her young daughter.  There are posts about […]

  5. Link Love: 3/26/2010 « The Bigger Picture Says:

    […] to Jeanne of Spellbound Blog for her cool animated .gif, comparing our Flickr Commons Women in Science set with our […]

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