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Issue No.02 - April-June (2010 vol.32)
pp: 58-68
David Nofre , University of Amsterdam
ABSTRACT
<p>Current views on the programming language Algol assume its European origins. However, the inability to exchange information between computers affected both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas Algol promoters sought to create one universal programming language, other approaches sought to preserve a variety of languages and create a general translation system. Therefore, the polarity was not between programming languages, but uniformity versus diversity.</p>
INDEX TERMS
history of software, programming languages, universal language, Algol, history of computing
CITATION
David Nofre, "Unraveling Algol: US, Europe, and the Creation of a Programming Language", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.32, no. 2, pp. 58-68, April-June 2010, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2010.4
REFERENCES
1. For the emergence of the concept of programming language, see P.E. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 81–88.
2. M. Fuller ed., Software Studies: A Lexicon, MIT Press, 2008, pp. 3–4.
3. J. Sammet, Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals, Prentice-Hall, 1969; D. Knuth, and L.T. Pardo, "The Early Development of Programming Languages," Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, vol. 7, J. Belzer, A.G. Holzman, and A. Kent eds., Marcel Dekker, 1977, pp. 419–493; R.L. Wexelblat ed., History of Programming Languages, ACM Press, 1981; T.M. Bergin, and R.G. Gibson eds., History of Programming Languages II, ACM Press, 1996. For an exception to this approach, see J.R. Holmevik,, "Inside Innovation: The Simula Research Laboratory and the History of the Simula Programming Language," Simula Research Lab, 2005.
4. A language history chart probably appeared first in C.J. Saw, "Milestones in Computer Programming," SIGPLAN Notices, Feb. 1965.
5. A Babel-like illustration appeared for the first time in January 1961 as a cover of Comm. ACM.
6. An early mention to a "universal programming language" took place during the meeting on "Information Exchange" between the user groups Share, USE, and DUO and the ACM in Los Angeles, 9–10 May 1957. Uncol Committee, "Report Universal Language Committee, Uncol (Universal Computer Oriented Language),"8 Apr. 1958, Share records, CBI 21, box 1, folder 3.
7. In 1961 there were 25 institutions in 10 European countries involved in the implementation of Algol. P. Naur, "Progress of Algol in Europe," Algol Bulletin, suppl. 18, 1961, pp. 1–6.
8. I use "standard" here to mean one single universal programming language for all purposes, all users, and all machines. For a discussion of the multiple meanings of standard, see J. Sumner and G.J.N. Gooday, "Introduction: Does Standardization Make Things Standard?" By Whose Standards? Standardization, Stability and Uniformity in the History of Information and Electrical Technologies, Continuum, 2008, pp. 1–13.
9. For example, P. Naur, "Progress of Algol in Europe;" H. Rutishauser, Description of ALGOL 60: Handbook for Automatic Computing, vol. I, Springer Verlag, 1967, pp. 4–8; R.W. Bemer, "A Politico-Social History of Algol," Ann. Rev. Automatic Programming, vol. 5, 1969, pp. 151–237; A.J. Perlis, "The American Side of the Development of Algol," History of Programming Languages, R.L. Wexelblat ed., ACM Press, 1981, pp. 75–91; P. Naur, "The European Side of the Last Phase of the Development of Algol 60," History of Programming Languages, R.L. Wexelblat ed., ACM Press, 1981, pp. 92–138; C.H. Lindsey, "A History of Algol 68," History of Programming Languages II, T.M. Bergin, and R.G. Gibson eds., ACM Press, 1996, pp. 97–132; F.L. Bauer, "Die Algol-Verschwörung" [The Algol Conspiracy], Geschichten der Informatik: Visionen, Paradigmen, Leitmotive, H.D. Hellige ed., Springer, 2004, pp. 237–254.
10. Bemer, "A Politico-Social History of Algol."
11. See A.J. Perlis, and R. Iturriaga, "An Extension to Algol for Manipulating Formulae," Comm. ACM, vol. 7, no. 2, 1964, pp. 127–130; T.E. Cheatham, Jr., "Editor's Note: A Successor to Algol?" Comm. ACM, vol. 7, no. 7, 1964, p. 422; J. Sammet, "Programming Languages: History and Future," Comm. ACM, vol. 15, no. 7, 1972, pp. 601–610; S. Rosen, "Programming Systems and Languages, 1965–1975," Comm. ACM, vol. 15, no. 7, 1972, pp. 591–600; C.H. Hoare, "The Emperor's Old Clothes," Comm. ACM, vol. 24, no. 2, 1981, pp. 75–83.
12. These attributed features of Algol fit neatly with a broader discourse that tend to highlight the supposed differences between European and American technological styles. I thank the reviewer who brought this my attention.
13. "Software Pioneer Peter Naur Wins ACM's Turing Award," ACM press release, 1 Mar. 2006; http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/ 3_2006turing_3_01_2006.cfm .
14. Perlis, "The American Side of the Development of Algol;" and Naur, "The European Side of the Last Phase of the Development of Algol 60."
15. Perlis, "The American Side of the Development of Algol," p. 88.
16. Perlis, "The American Side of the Development of Algol," p. 78.
17. Perlis, "The American Side of the Development of Algol," p. 87.
18. Comment from A.J. Perlis See T. Cheatham, "Transcription of Question and Answer Session," History of Programming Languages, R.L. Wexelblat ed., ACM Press, 1981, p. 164.
19. R.L. Wexelblat ed., History of Programming Languages, ACM Press, 1981.
20. For this paragraph, see especially Bauer, "Die Algol-Verschwörung;" Naur, "The European Side of the Last Phase of the Development of Algol 60;", and N.J. Lehmann, "Algol im Ostblock und der Weg zu Systemen von Programmiersprachen" [Algol in the Eastern Bloc and the Way to Systems of Programming Languages], Geschichten der Informatik: Visionen, Paradigmen, Leitmotive, H.D. Hellige ed., Springer, 2004, pp. 256–259.
21. , For the link between research on computers and the military in the US, see P.N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, MIT Press, 1996.
22. D.F. Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, Knopf, 1984.
23. H.H. Goldstine, John von Neumann: Planning and Coding of Problems for an Electronic Computing Instrument, Inst. for Advanced Study, 1947; M.V. Wilkes, D.J. Wheeler, and S. Gill, The Preparation of Programs for an Electronic Digital Computer: With the Special Reference to the EDSAC and the Use of Subroutines, Addison-Wesley, 1951.
24. J.W. Backus and H. Herrick, "IBM 701 Speedcoding and other Automatic-Programming Systems," Proc. Symp. Automatic Programming for Digital Computers, Navy Advisory Math. Panel, Office of Naval Research, 1954, p. 106.
25. For the Whirlwind project, see K.C. Redmond and T.M. Smith, Project Whirlwind: The History of a Pioneer Computer, Digital Press, 1980.
26. C.W. Adams, "Small Problems on Large Computers," Proc. 1952 ACM Nat'l Meeting, ACM Press, 1952, pp. 99–102; J.W. Carr, "Progress of the Whirlwind Computer Towards an Automatic Programming Procedure," Proc. 1952 ACM Nat'l Meeting, ACM Press, 1952, p. 237.
27. Adams, "Small Problems on Large Computers," p. 99.
28. J.H. Laning Jr. and N. Zierler, "A Program for Translation of Mathematical Equations for Whirlwind I," eng. memo E-364, MIT Instrumentation Lab, Jan. 1954.
29. Laning Jr. and Zierler eng. memo E-364, pp. 1–2.
30. Sammet, Programming Languanges, pp. 132–172., See also Knuth and Pardo, "The Early Development of Programming Languages," pp. 66–73.
31. On Rutishauser's ideas, see Knuth and Pardo, "The Early Development of Programming Languages," pp. 24–29; H. Petzold, Rechnende Maschinen. Eine historische Untersuchung ihrer Herstellung und Anwendung vom Kaiserreich bis zur Bundesrepublik [Computing Machines: A Historical Study of their Production and Application from the Kaiserreich to the Federal Republic], VDI Verlag, 1985, pp. 484–487.
32. In 1955, no country on the European continent had 10 working computers. In comparison, the US had more than 80 and the UK more than 25. W. Aspray, "International Diffusion of Computer Technology, 1945–1955," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 8, no. 4, 1986, p. 352.
33. M. Rees, "Applied Mathematics in Western Europe," ONR report, 1948, p. 1, Int'l Computing collection, Charles Babbage Inst., CBI 62, box 3, folder 11.
34. The earliest initiatives in Western Europe of cooperation in computing date back to 1947. The Mathematisch Centrum in Amsterdam attempted first cooperation with Belgium and France in the summer of 1947. Then the Dutch center established a European Committee of Computing Institutes, "Samenwerking met Frankrijk en België (…) op het gebied van grote rekenmachines in Juli 1947" [Collaboration with France and Belgium in the Field of Large Computing Machines by July 1947], Noord-Hollands archive, Mathematisch Centrum archive, dossier 76; A. Van Wijngaarden, European Committee of Computing Institutes, Noord-Hollands archive, Mathematisch Centrum archive, dossier 71.
35. Proceedings published as J. Wosnik ed., Elektronische Rechenmaschinen und Informationsverarbeitung. Nachrichtentechnische Fachberichte [Electronic Digital Computers and Information Processing], vol. 4, Vieweg & Sohn, 1956.
36. H. Petzold, "Eine Informatiktagung vor der Gründung der Informatik. Die Darmstädter Konferenz von 1955" [An Informatics Conference before the Foundation of Informatics: The Darmstadt Conference of 1955], Zahl, Ordnung. Studien zur Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte, R. Seising, M. Folkerts, and U. Hashagen eds., Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004, pp. 759–782.
37. On postwar international isolation of German scientists, see U. Deichmann,, "Emigration, Isolation and the Slow Start of Molecular Biology in Germany," Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 33, no. 3, 2002, pp. 460–464. A. Walther compared the importance of the symposium by using Tennessee Williams' expression "the violets in the mountains have broken the rocks." Wosnik, Elektronische Rechenmaschinen und Informationsverarbeitung, p. viii.
38. On the friendship between F.L. Bauer and A.S. Householder see Petzold, Rechnende Maschinen, p. 488; F.L. Bauer, "Memories of Alston Householder (1904–1993);" http://www3.math.tu-berlin.de/householder_2008 Cleve.html.
39. K. Samelson expressed similar views in a symposium in Dresden. See K. Samelson, "Probleme der Programmierungstechnik" [Problems of Programming Technique], Bericht über das Internationale Mathematiker-Kolloquium. Aktuelle Probleme der Rechentechnik, VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1957, pp. 61–68.
40. Wosnik, Elektronische Rechenmaschinen und Informationsverarbeitung, p. 143.
41. Lehmann, "Algol im Ostblock und der Weg zu Systemen von Programmiersprachen," p. 257.
42. Participants F.L. Bauer, and N.J. Lehman have briefly explained the activities of this committee. Bauer, "Die Algol-Verschwörung;" Lehmann, "Algol im Ostblock und der Weg zu Systemen von Programmiersprachen."
43. Lehmann, "Algol im Ostblock und der Weg zu Systemen von Programmiersprachen," p. 258.
44. For the early days of Share, see A. Akera, , Calculating a Natural World: Scientists, Engineers, and Computers during the Rise of the US Cold War Research, MIT Press, 2007, chapt. 7.
45. "F. Jones to Share members,"9 Aug. 1955, Share records, CBI 21, box 1, folder 1, p. 1.
46. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, chapt. 2.
47. Akera, Calculating a Natural World, pp. 251–255.
48. Akera, Calculating a Natural World, p. 272.
49. "A Proposal Relative to Cataloguing 704 Programs Distributed by Share,"24 Feb. 1956, Share records, CBI 21, box 1, folder 2.
50. IBM was in charge of the distribution at least from 1957. "Verbatim Transcript of the 9th Meeting,"1 Oct. 1957, Share records, CBI 21, box 3, folder 13, pp. 32–36.
51. The expression is from Franz Ross, at that time head of the IBM Dept. of Publication and Distribution. "Verbatim Transcript of the 9th Meeting," p. 36.
52. A. Akera (Calculating a Natural World) has corrected former views on Share as a pure annex of IBM by stressing Share's role as intermediary between IBM and its customers. Yet Akera fails to appreciate the extent to which the benefits of collaboration created a reciprocal dependence between both organizations. Whereas Share's members needed IBM to produce their library of previously tested programs, the IBM sales force could use the possibility of Share membership as a plus in their marketing of IBM computers.
53. The ACM was founded in 1947 as an association of individual scientists and engineers working in the new field of computing. "Notice on Organization of an Eastern Association for Computing Machinery," 25 Jun. 1947, ACM records, CBI 205, box 11, folder 15. The other two American computing organizations were the computing sections of the American Inst. of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Inst. of Radio Engineers (IRE).
54. "Recapitulation of the May, 1957, Los Angeles Meetings on Information Exchange." A copy of this document is included as appendix A in the following document: Uncol Committee, "Report Universal Language Committee,"8 Apr. 1958, Share records, CBI 21, box 1, folder 3.
55. "Recapitulation of the May, 1957, Los Angeles Meetings on Information Exchange," Uncol Committee Report, p. 3.
56. "Recapitulatioin of the May, 1957, Los Angeles Meetings on Information Exchange," Uncol Committee Report, p. 4.
57. "Minutes of the ACM Council,"20 Jun. 1957, appendix A, ACM records, CBI 205, box 11, folder 16.
58. "H. Rutishauser et al. to J.W. Carr,"19 Oct. 1957, appendix A, Uncol Committee Report.
59. "H. Rutishauser et al. to J.W. Carr," Uncol Committee Report, pp. 2, 3.
60. "H. Rutishauser et al. to J.W. Carr," Uncol Committee Report, p. 1.
61. "H. Rutishauser et al. to J.W. Carr," Uncol Committee Report, p. 2.
62. F.L. Bauer, "Memories of Alston Householder (1904–1993)."
63. "I.L. Auerbach to P. Auger,"22 Apr. 1957, Unesco archives, Box Int'l Conf. Information Processing 1959, France, folder part I. In this letter, Auerbach informs the head of Unesco's Science Department (P. Auger) of his contacts with A. Walther, who had just attended the last meeting of the NJJC in Chicago.
64. Joint Computer Committee, "Proposal for an International Conference on Information Processing Systems,"1 Nov. 1956, Unesco archives, Box Int'l Conf. Information Processing 1959, France, folder part I.
65. Joint Computer Committee Proposal, pp. 9, 10.
66. J. Krige, American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe, MIT Press, 2006. For US foreign policy and scientific internationalism during this period, see especially J. Manzione, "'Amusing and Amazing and Practical and Military': The Legacy of Scientific Internationalism in American Foreign Policy, 1945–1963," Diplomatic History, vol. 24, no. 1, 2000, pp. 21–56.
67. I take this idea of Atlantic community building in science from Krige, American Hegemony, p. 3.
68. Petzold, Rechnende Maschinen, p. 498.
69. Krige, American Hegemony, chapt. 7.
70. "J.W. Carr to ACM Council,"26 Oct. 1957, Uncol Committee Report, p. 2.
71. "J.W. Carr to ACM Council,"26 Oct. 1957, Uncol Committee Report, p. 3.
72. For their positions, see the Uncol Committee Report: "F.V. Wagner to J.W. Carr,"22 Nov. 1957; "H.S. Bright to J.W. Carr,"26 Nov. 1957. About F.V. Wagner, see Akera, Calculating a Natural World, p. 253. About H.S. Bright, see E.A. Weiss, "Biographies," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 10, no. 3, 1988, pp. 217–218.
73. "H.S. Bright to J.W. Carr,"26 Nov. 1957, Uncol Committee Report, p. 4.
74. T.B. Steel Jr., "A First Version of Uncol," Proc. Western Joint IRE-AIEE-ACM Computer Conf., ACM Press, 1961, p. 371.
75. For an overview of Uncol, see T.B. Steel, "Uncol: The Myth and the Fact," Ann. Rev. Automatic Programming, vol. 2, 1961, pp. 325–344; Sammet, Programming Languages, pp. 708–709.
76. For a detailed description of Uncol, see the Uncol Committee Report, especially the following documents: "Universal Language Committee to Share Membership,"8 Apr. 1958; "The 3-Level Concept,"28 Feb. 1958, appendix B; "Uncol System Notation," appendix C; "Use of the Uncol System," appendix D; and "The Problem of Programming Communication with Changing Machines: A Proposed Solution," appendix E.
77. The expression is from T.B. Steel (System Development Corp.), member of the Share Uncol Committee. T.B. Steel, Uncol Committee Report, 17 Mar. 1961, p. 2, F.V. Wagner papers, CBI 6, box 1, folder 32.
78. For the different positions within Share, see the panel discussion on universal languages (one set of notes), "Verbatim Transcript of the Share 10th Meeting,"26–28 Feb. 1958, appendix E, Share records, CBI 21, box 3, folder 16.
79. A.J. Perlis and K. Samelson, "Preliminary Report: International Algebraic Language," Comm. ACM, vol. 1, no. 12, 1958, pp. 8–22.
80. Perlis and Samelson, "Preliminary Report," p. 9.
81. "Verbatim Transcript of the Share 11th Meeting,"9–12 Sept. 1958, appendix C-17, p. 1, Share records, CBI 21, box 3, folder 17.
82. Bemer, "A Politico-Social History of Algol," p. 168.
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