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Archiving Women in Technology: A Tribute to Ada Lovelace

In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day 2009, I decided to see how many different archival resources I could dig up that document the achievements of women in technology.

My first find has me giving a big hats off to IBM. They have a page dedicated to IBM Women in Technology, but the real fun is in digging through the persona pages listed in the IBM Women in Technology International (WITI) hall of fame. You can watch oral history interviews with women like Frances Allen,  an “expert in the field of optimizing compilers”, or Caroline Kovac, who “oversees the development of cutting-edge information technology at IBM for the life sciences market”.

Beyond IBM’s offerings I ran into a classic challenge – how do you find archival collections specifically about women in technology? A visit to the American Institute of Physic’s archive found me a photo mini-exhibits of of Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer. A search for “woman scientists” on the Online Archive of California (OAC) found these:

  • Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics : Records of the UCLA Website 1912-2001: The records include documentation of the original papers in which discoveries were first reported, biographical material, including some photographs, and descriptions vetted by Field Editors.
  • Katherine Esau papers: The Katherine Esau papers represent the entire body of plant anatomy research Esau conducted from 1924 when she began research on curly top virus in sugar beets for the Spreckels Sugar Company to 1991 when she published her last article. The collection includes correspondence, research notes, photographs, biographical material, objects, and printed matter.

The challenge in finding collections like these is that you need to hunt through each institutions collections. Looking for the records of a specific individual is easiest, but finding collections in general relating to women and technology is a lot harder. The first collection listed above from OAC has the subject “Women in physics –Archival resources” assigned to it, which seems very useful until you realize that it is the only collection assigned this subject in all of OAC.

I want to leave you with the thought that preserving the notes and writing of young innovative women who are passionate about technology is what will let future generations read their words just as young women can read and be inspired by the words of Ada Lovelace today.

Want to read some of Ada’s writing? Get your hands on a copy of Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: A Selection from the Letters of Lord Byron’s Daughter and Her Description of the First Computer. Want to read something a bit more contemporary that is halfway between memoir and eclectic visit to the depths of software programming, then try Ellen Ullman’s  Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents.

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