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From Computing Girls to Data Processors: Women Assistants in the Rothamsted Statistics Department

  • Giuditta ParoliniEmail author
Chapter
Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)

Abstract

Over 200 women worked as computing assistants in the Rothamsted statistics department during the twentieth century. They were employed in the analysis of field and laboratory experiments and in the examination of the returns of agricultural surveys. Before World War II they did calculations with pen, paper, slide rules and electromechanical calculating machines, but during the 1950s, when the department underwent an early process of computerisation, their tasks shifted to data processing. Only sparse records exist on the work of these women, and their contribution to the activity of the Rothamsted statistics department has never been assessed, consigning them to invisibility. Combining the literature currently available on laboratory technicians with the one on human computers and data processors, the paper will provide a longue durée perspective (1920s–1990) on the work of the female assistants in the Rothamsted statistics department, addressing two distinct aspects. On the one hand it will examine how the tasks of these women evolved with the computing technologies available in the department. On the other hand the paper will reflect on the invisibility of these assistants, who are never explicitly accounted as contributors to the scientific activity of the Rothamsted statistics department, despite being a conspicuous component of its staff.

Keywords

Oral History Scientific Enterprise Paper Tape Scientific Staff Assistant Statistician 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgement

I am grateful to Mrs Brenda Watler (interviewed in August 2014) and Mrs L. Vera Wiltsher (interviewed in September 2011) for sharing with me their memories of the years spent in the Rothamsted statistics department. I thank the Lawes Agricultural Trust for the permission to quote from the materials held in the archives of Rothamsted Research.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Technische Universität Berlin and Berliner Zentrum für WissensgeschichteBerlinGermany

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