[SIGCIS-Members] COBOL history
brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk
Thu Oct 9 14:58:40 PDT 2014
No problem. I’m sure we’re in violent agreement.
Let me recount one little GH incident.
After my book “The Origins of Digital Computers: Selected Papers” was published back in the 70s I sent it in turn to a number of the authors represented, asking them to add their signatures. (I stopped after a while, not being willing to risk the growing set of famous signatures to the transatlantic post yet again.) Grace Hopper was one of the people I asked, because of the paper that she had co-authored with Howard Aiken. When she returned my book, it was with a very nice cover letter, which said that since Howard Aiken had sadly passed away (in fact not long earlier) she was enclosing for me in lieu a wartime leave certificate that he had signed authorising her to pay a visit to Vassar College. What a kind and thoughtful lady!
On 6 Oct 2014, at 19:13, Janet Abbate <abbate at VT.EDU> wrote:
> Let me clarify. I certainly wouldn't deny that Grace Hopper was a major influence on the development (and even existence) of COBOL, both through her proselytizing for high-level languages and through her own production of the first business programming language. But to credit her with single-handedly creating COBOL, and not even mention the six people on the subcommittee that did the actual work (including Sammet), is not only a distortion but goes against Isaacson's professed aim to show that innovation comes from collaboration and not lone heroic inventors. (It's also an odd choice because two of the six committee members were women, which would have reinforced his women-in-computing theme.)
> To me this is one of those "Edison invented the lightbulb" memes that is not completely unrelated to historical events, but is not strictly true, either.
> On Oct 6, 2014, at 1:39 07PM, Brian Randell wrote:
>> I don’t have the time or energy to read the entirety of Jean Sammet’s “The Early History of COBOL” (In “The History of Programming Languages”, Academic Press, 1981, pages 199-277) but even a quick glance at this shows Grace Hopper’s footprints all over the COBOL project.
>> Some quotes I particularly noted:
>> “In my view, Grace Hopper did more than any other single individual to sell the concept of higher level languages from both a technical and administrative viewpoint" [Applause] - from Jean Sammet’s introduction to Grace Hopper, the conference keynote speaker (page 6)
>> “It is beyond the scope of this paper to do even a superficial study of all the work that precedes COBOL. However, it is worth noting the preliminary definition of a data processing compiler by Grace Hopper (1955) which contains the following two crucial sentences as part of the description of the compilation process. ‘in the case of a *verb*, the catalog entry will lead to a generator or subroutine and its satellite routines in a volume of the library. In the case of a *noun*, the catalog entry will lead to a standard item design and its satellite routines in a volume of the library.’ In my opinion, these sentences are crucial, since they point the way to a data description that is separate from the executable code.” (page 217)
>> “A key point in the development of any language is to see what influenced it . . . The major influences [on COBOL] were the two languages - FLOW-MATIC from Remington Rand Univac done under Grace Hopper’s direction - Commercial Translator being done at IBM by a group under the general leadership of Ray Goldfinger, who was working for Bob Bemer at the time.” (pages 247-248)
>> I have no doubt that Grace Hopper was one of the major contributors to the whole COBOL project.
>> Brian Randell
>> School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU
>> EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk PHONE = +44 191 208 7923
>> URL = http://www.ncl.ac.uk/computing/staff/profile/brian.randell
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School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne,
NE1 7RU, UK
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk PHONE = +44 191 222 7923
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