Talk on Babbage at NYU/Poly

I’m back from my talk on Babbage and his quest to build the first computer in the 19th century at NYU/Poly in Brooklyn. A great turnout–over 50–made up of computer scientists as well as members of the humanities and social science department (and, I think, a couple of Ada Lovelace fans from the local community). It was the first time the two departments had co-sponsored a talk, possibly the first time that the members of the two departments were even in the same room! I am so glad to have helped bring that about, especially given the book’s message about the need to bridge the ever-growing gap between the scientists and the humanists.

Both groups seemed to love hearing about Babbage and his three friends! I spoke about how the meetings of the Philosophical Breakfast Club inspired and influenced Babbage’s project, and then about the workings of the engines themselves.

A lively Q & A session ensued. I had a blast, and I appreciate the invitation and the fabulous audience.

2 replies
  1. Sunny Solomon
    Sunny Solomon says:

    Your piece about the difficulty of getting the science and humanities departments into the same room reminded me of a class I took at SF State U. I can’t remember the title of the class, but our text was “Turing’s Man” and the class was taught by computer nut/Eng.professor/ poet William Dickey. I think the year was 1987. It had taken Bill at least one year of petitioning the Math Dept. to gain permission to teach such a course under the guise of the Humanities Dept. It was great fun and from time to time I still refer back to the text .

    Have a question on a totally different topic, but could you suggest a good book on Francis Bacon for the nonscience oriented reader (me)?

    • Laura J. Snyder
      Laura J. Snyder says:

      Interesting story about that class! If only things were different now….

      As for a book on Bacon for a non-specialist, I really like Benjamin Farrington’s Francis Bacon, Philosopher of Industrial Science(London, 1951). A more sensationalistic, biographical work is Jardine and Stewart’s Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (London, 1998). And you can’t go wrong by reading Bacon himself; he is pretty readable, especially in New Atlantis which (showing how different the New York City public schools were some decades back!) my father read in high school. I wish that were true for my own university students today!

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