Center for Digital Narrative
Scientific soirée

An evening at Mr Babbage's

Experience one of the famed scientific soirées Charles Babbage held for scientists, artists, writers and politicians in the 1830s and 1840s, taking on a role as one of the historical characters who actually participated.

Technical drawing of a section of Babbage's difference engine
This is a drawing of the part of the difference engine that Charles Babbage displayed at his Saturday evening soirées.
Public domain. Printed in Harper's new monthly magazine, December 1864

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Mr Charles Babbage requests your company at one of his famed Saturday night soiréesat his home on Dorset Street. It is 1839 or maybe 1841 and technology is changing fast. Everyone has heard of Mr Babbage’s difference engine, and Lady Lovelace says that the new analytical engine could be programmed to do almost anything! Mr Babbage’s soirées are the place to see and discuss the latest new inventions and ideas.

The goal of this session is to explore how social interactions as well as art and literature have influenced the development and promotion of technology, and to test out live action role-playing as a mode of science communication and scientific inquiry.

You will be assigned a role as one of Babbage’s historical guests. You will have 10 minutes to read up on your character and decide what your character would think about Babbage’s engine or the power-loom riots, then, after we briefly workshop possible relationships between guests, Mr Babbage will welcome everyone to his drawing room and invite you to mingle with the other guests. Will you meet the feminist Caroline Norton? Harriet Martineau the sociologist? A writer like Dickens or Longfellow, a mathematician like Ada Lovelace or Mary Somerset, a composer like Felix Mendelsohn, or perhaps a traveller like Dwarkanath Tagore, the Indian industrialist or Ellen Coolidge, granddaughter of the Thomas Jefferson?

No preparation, experience or costumes are required. You will be assigned a role when you arrive, and will have 10 minutes to read about the character before we start the soirée.

If you would prefer to read about your character in advance, email jill.walker.rettberg@uib.no.