iPad apps make for an interesting way to explore interactive documentary, and The Computer Wore Heels offers an engaging story about women’s contributions during World War II.
This story provides another take on Rosie the Riveter, the iconic image from when women worked in factories throughout the war. Written by LeAnn Erickson, The Computer Wore Heels tells the experiences of several women who worked as computers for the U.S. Army. All of these women excelled in math, pursuing degrees in the subject at a time when some colleges and universities actually prohibited women from studying the subject.
In working as computers, the women would calculate how bombs would fall under certain conditions for the artillery range tables. Other women worked as the first computer programmers on ENIAC, or the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, which processed calculations at much faster speeds.
Drawn from Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II, the app follows several key characters on their journeys to, during, and after the jobs, including Betty Jean Jennings, twins Doris and Shirley Blumberg, and others. It shows their long work shifts, co-worker camaraderie, and uncertain futures against the backdrop of World War II’s unfolding events at home and abroad.
The app consists mostly of an interactive book that is grounded in smart writing with related multimedia features. The book itself is styled to look “old,” with a light sepia tone and old maps, graphics, and mathematical formulas as part of the background. Even the font evokes the old typewriters.
Divided into twelve chapters, the book includes audio, video, still images, and other archival materials. Some of these materials are recreations designed to mimic the style of the era’s newsreels, while others include pictures of the women and newspaper stories from the time. Two unique additions are a flight diary that outlines a man’s mission and an ENIAC flowchart drawn by hand.
The interactive materials also contribute further background or asides to the main story. One provides details about the different computers developed at the time, while another provides a short biography of Alice McLaine Hall, an African-American woman who earned a college degree in math and worked as a human computer.
While you can read the story without touching on the interactive features, they do provide that “something extra” to the app’s experience. In chapter 2 for example, the text begins, “Swing music poured out of the large desktop radio as Betty Jean danced around the parlor,” and a snippet of a swing band tune plays.
The book is easy to navigate and provides directions on how to use the app. Though embedded throughout the story, the materials also appear in three galleries that offer direct access to them. Each item receives a brief explanation and source credit, and each one disappears with a tap, taking you right back to where you left off. Overall, the app tells a great historical story in a stylish and accessible way.