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Did Tweeting Save Bletchley Park?

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Published on Jun 18, 2012

Google Tech Talk
June 13, 2012

Presented by Sue Black.

ABSTRACT

Bletchley Park is the historic site of secret British code breaking activities during World War II and one of the birthplaces of the modern computer. Bletchley was home to Britain's cryptologists during WWII: Alan Turing (Turing Machine), Tommy Flowers, Miriam Louisa Rothschild and many others/early computer scientists. They are amongst the most well known heroes of Bletchley Park; what is less known is that half of the 10,000 people who worked there were women (think: "Rosie the Mathematician/Code Breaker").

The Park, 45 minutes by train from London's Paddington Station, is now a museum, with a 26 acre site, many exhibitions and working rebuilds of machines such as the Colossus, a forerunner of today's computers invented to mechanise codebreaking. The museum is staffed by a 75% volunteer workforce and is grossly underfunded compared to its historical importance. English historian and cryptanalyst Sir Harry Hinsley said Bletchley Park "shortened the war by not less than two years and probably by four years," saving millions of lives.

Dr Sue Black visited Bletchley Park in July 2008 as chair of the British Computer Society's Women's Network (BCSWomen), and she was so appalled at the state of decay of this important site that she started a campaign to get the true historic value of the site recognised and to save it from being lost to the nation. She sent a letter to the UK broadsheet newspaper The Times signed by 97 eminent UK computer scientists, which was published and highlighted in BBC television and radio news broadcasts.

Following traditional media coverage, a blog was established, and then social media (particularly Twitter) used to great effect to raise awareness and support for the campaign. Campaign efforts have received national coverage on television, on radio, and in the press and have contributed to the Park recently receiving £4.6 million funding from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund.

Dr Sue Black will describe the campaign to save Bletchley Park, exploring the effectiveness of traditional vs. social media, highlighting how the use of social media has contributed greatly to campaign success. Her talk will include highlights of Google's help to bring some of Turing's important papers to the site (now on display). Since the Saving Bletchley Park campaign started, visitor numbers have increased, along with public awareness of the contribution of the site to world heritage and the history of the computer.

Speaker Info: Dr. Sue Black, a British computer scientist, has been instrumental in championing awareness and fundraising to preserve Bletchley Park where she has recently become a Trustee. Dr. Black is a Senior Research Associate in the department of computer science at University College London, UK. She sits on the Council for the British Computer Society and the UK Foreign Secretary's group on freedom of expression. Keen to champion women in computing Dr. Black set up the BCSWomen online network in 2001 and has recently become a strategic advisor for ACM-W. Passionate about computer science and its benefit to individuals, organisations and the economy Dr. Black has set up a non-profit organisation last year called The Foundation which aims increasing technology and innovation experiences and awareness amongst UK youth. Here's a BBC story on their recent work with 7 year olds coding for Raspberry Pi in Scratch, etc.

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