What a Weekend!

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

Lots of towels and hard work from a daughter with a mop and sponge minimised the flooding from under the door.

What a weekend! Stumbling Through History Links, my list of useful, free Australian history resources has burst into life thanks to readers suggesting links to add to the list and sharing the page on social media. This post will also come to the inbox of several new readers – welcome to my blog!

It was also a weekend where we bore the brunt of storms in Sydney. I had just made a breakthrough in my research when I looked out the window and said, “oh no”! It was ominous. I left my research breakthrough unrecorded and we rushed to the side door which has been the source of water flooding into the house several times in the last ten months. Just a couple of hours ago I had cleaned out the drain in front of the door, organised a pile of towels, a sponge, chamois, bucket and mop. We were armed and in position!

But I hadn’t counted on water flooding through the ceiling upstairs. I left a daughter furiously mopping up the water downstairs and ran upstairs with bowls, and a bucket. Already the carpet was squelchy. A five litre bucket filled in less than five minutes. I did a shuttle back and forth to the bathroom to empty the bucket and bowls. Continue reading

Launching ‘Stumbling Through History Links’

Elm CStumbling Through History Links is a new page on this blog with over one hundred links to useful Australian history resources. I hope that these will assist you with whatever historical research you are doing, whether you are researching family history or local history, school or academic work. Nearly all the resources listed are free to anyone with an internet connection.

These links used to appear on the right-hand-side of my blog but your responses to my last post were clear. Those who commented said that the links were valuable but most people had not noticed them.  Even when I drew attention to them in my last post, some still found them hard to find. Fair enough. Even I was not using these resources enough.

Over the last day I have copied all the links into the page. By categorising them by topic and by region some gaps became evident. I have added some new links to resources which I have found useful in my research over the years. Continue reading

Australian History Links on Stumbling Through the Past

I have been writing Stumbling Through the Past for over five years now. When I started this blog I thought that the right hand side column would be a great place for me to stow links to websites, libraries and archives that I have found useful in my research. I usually just add one or two links at a time, then move on with other things. This week I needed to go back over old work so I looked through the links.

I was surprised at what a useful Australian history resource I have gradually amassed. However, it is rather hidden on my blog as you have to scroll down to find it and look at the column. I wondered if anyone uses it, or whether I should place it elsewhere on my blog.

Australia’s Media History

Book cover

Bridget Griffen-Foley, ed. A Companion to the Australian Media, (North Melbourne, Vic: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014).

While pondering these questions I added nine new links. These links are for websites and archives about Australian business and media history. Many of these links have been plumbed from the wonderful Australian Media History Database. This website and the Media Archives Project are provided by Macquarie University’s Centre for Media History. The Centre’s director, Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley has also edited an invaluable encyclopaedia on Australia’s media history. This week I consulted A Companion to the Australian Media while researching at the State Library of Victoria. It is the first place to go to when embarking on research into any aspect of Australia’s media history. I am also impressed by the work the Centre’s Media Archives Project has done to identify important records in Australia’s media history and work to ensure that these collections are secured for researchers to access in perpetuity.

The web resources of the Centre for Media History are extensive. While writing this I found the Centre’s Colonial Australian Literary Journalism website which currently covers literary journalism in Australia from the first European settlement until Federation (1901).

The internet is built by links. It is a collaborative exercise built on an ethos of generosity. Everyone benefits the more they share their own work and that of others. The Centre for Media History is just one of thousands of organisations and historians online who understand this.

(While writing this I digressed and added another link which I should have added a while ago. Check out Jennifer McLaren’s history blog) Continue reading

A Quirky Hotel with a History

Portico at front entrance of hotel

A quirky hotel with a history: the Mercure Hotel, Canberra.

It was just another visit to Canberra but this time my mother was accompanying me to see her grand-daughter who lives in Canberra. All I wanted was a simple twin share room but one of the hotels I often use was booked out and the other I also sometimes stay at did not have twin share. They offered to put up a foldaway bed if I paid an additional sum of money – but I didn’t want to pay extra for the privilege of sleeping in a potentially uncomfortable bed so I found a hotel I had never tried before.

I secured a great rate but given that this was a branded hotel I was expecting a bland experience. The mention of ‘old world charm’ did not enthuse me. The last time I stayed in ‘old world charm’ I was in a room with a window covered in ‘old world’ grime, antiquated plumbing and a rattly old air conditioner. But I didn’t pay much for the room so was not going to grumble if it was like this. You get what you pay for.

Bed with two pillows, lamps either side and hotel towels and toiletries placed on it.

Daylight flooding onto the queen-sized bed – not the down at heel room I was expecting.

It is good to have low expectations because then you have the pleasure of expectations being exceeded. As I walked into our room at the Mercure Hotel in Canberra my cynicism vanished. We had two queen sized beds with one bed right next to a window. The daylight flooded onto the bed unimpeded by those daytime curtains used by so many hotels to protect privacy.  I went to the window and laughed. The room was great value but the view reflected the price. It was so bad it was funny. I had no concerns about my privacy – I don’t think anyone would gaze on that view! But I could actually open the window and breathe in the fresh Canberra air. Our room was far superior to all those hermetically sealed hotel rooms with artificial air, bland drapes and soulless prints hung on beige walls. Not only that, but the bathroom was properly renovated, the beds comfortable and the room was spacious.

A view so bad it's funny, but still not in contention for worst hotel view as the window was clean and the air was fresh.

A view so bad it’s funny, but still not in contention for worst hotel view as the window was clean and the air was fresh.

Continue reading

War, Emotions and Beliefs

Melbourne Museum sign

It is hard to get a good photo of the aircraft hangar like building that contains the Melbourne Museum. While the outside of the building may look uninspiring, the exhibitions inside of the building are well worth a visit.

Over the last few months I have been dealing with life, the universe and the mundane. I had so much on my plate that I regretfully decided to reduce the pressure by taking a pause on my blog. But I am back! Over the next few weeks I will share some of what I have been doing. Today I thought I would give you an update on my book project.

When I was in Melbourne for the birth of our first grandchild I took the opportunity to attend the War and Emotions Symposium at Melbourne Museum. Over the last year there have been many war conferences, books, exhibitions, television series and other events hoping to catch the interest of people during the centenary of World War I. I couldn’t possibly give attention to all, and frankly, too many are superficial or cross the line by glorifying war but I’m so pleased I had the chance to attend the War and Emotions Symposium. Continue reading

Women were Among the World’s First Computer Programmers

The first published computer program was written by a woman. The programmers of the world’s earliest digital computers were women. The inventor of the significant technology behind the most widely used programming language in the twentieth century was a woman. The software which was responsible for the first landing of men on the moon was written by a programming team led by a woman.

Clearly women are capable of being excellent programmers, but in a classic example of our culture preventing natural abilities from shining, the information technology industry is dominated by men. Worse, girls in the West are still growing up in societies that expect them not to be as good at using information technology as boys, or interested in becoming information technology professionals.

A little bit of history demonstrates how wrong those attitudes are.

This week Ada Lovelace Day was celebrated around the world to recognise women’s achievements in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). It is named in honour of the women who is widely recognised as the world’s first programmer – Ada Lovelace.

Painting of Lovelace wearing a purple Victorian-era dress and Victorian-era fancy hairstyle.

Ada Lovelace is the stated author of what is now recognised as the world’s first published computer program in 1842. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet, Lord Byron. Her parents had separated when she was a baby and her mother ensured that she had a mathematical education to counter what her mother saw as the ‘madness’ of Byron’s poetical mind. She was mentored by another important nineteenth century female scientist, Mary Somerville. Through Somerville Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the forerunner to modern computers. Ada Lovelace claimed to write instructions for Babbage’s Analytical Engine even though the machine had not been built. She had to work off Babbage’s plans for this complex machine and discussions with him.

The instructions for the Analytical Engine that Lovelace claimed to write are now regarded as the first published computer program.

However, there is an ongoing debate about how much of this was her work and how much was that of Babbage himself. Clearly Babbage would have had to, at the very least, devise some simple instructions while creating this machine and to check his design. Hence I have observed that Lovelace was the stated author of the world’s first published program. (See Addendum at the end of this post for more discussion about this debate)

What was probably even more insightful about her work was her observation that the machine could be used to run many sorts of different programs. In Ada Lovelace’s ground breaking paper published in 1842, she observed:

The Analytical Engine, on the contrary, is not merely adapted for tabulating the results of one particular function and of no other, but for developing and tabulating any function whatever. In fact the engine may be described as being the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity

Ada Lovelace also considered the question of artificial intelligence:

The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with.

(Wow, I became so absorbed by Ada Lovelace’s work that I am reading some of her paper from 1842.)

Nearly one hundred years later, computing pioneer, Alan Turing picked up on Ada Lovelace’s arguments about artificial intelligence to develop his own thinking in this area. (Turing’s article from 1950 is another interesting one that has side-tracked me somewhat.)

Ada Lovelace was an important pioneer in information technology, but she was not the only one. Continue reading

A Jewel in the Australian City of Literature

read description below.

The stunning La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria. In the centre is a raised platform where librarians in bygone days used to sit and police the silence.

I have had the pleasure of doing some research at the State Library of Victoria while in Melbourne for the birth of our granddaughter.  Melbourne was the second city in the world to be designated a ‘City of Literature‘ by UNESCO. Melbourne has had a long love of books. The State Library of Victoria was one of the first public libraries in Australia (officially opened in 1856), but it continues to be loved and heavily used by the public. Increasingly tourists are visiting this Library to view the magnificent building.

Old book, computer plugged into one of the desks and an old chair to sit on.

My little place in the La Trobe Reading Room. It is a lovely mix of new and old. There are many power points in the old desks and wi-fi is available throughout the Library.

The stunning La Trobe Reading Room is a joy to work in. The room is flooded with daylight from the glass dome which soars thirty-five metres above. Even on one of Melbourne’s many dismal grey cloudy days, the dome and the white walls lift my spirits while I am working.

The La Trobe Reading Room was designed on panopticon principles, with a central raised platform in the middle of the room where in days gone by, a librarian would be perched to police the silence. Today no-one sits there. Apparently noise can be a problem in the room, but it has never bothered me. I find it difficult to concentrate in silence.

I have always wanted to do more photography at the Library so in breaks from reading World War I diaries I have been roaming around taking photos. Continue reading