Algol in France: From Universal Project to Embedded Culture


Algol was a high-level programming language, created by American and European mathematicians in the late 1950s. It sparked a wave of debates, projects and counter-projects, and remained lively in academic spheres until the 1970s. This article focuses on Algol, less as a programming language than as a research programme, an object of circulation and translation, and a decisive step in the building of a new scientific community: computer science, or informatique. It provides an analysis of the main French actors involved in the global Algol endeavor--small groups of computer scientists who became interested in this project, appropriated it, and participated in its evolution, either within academic laboratories, R&D departments of computer companies, user organizations, or learned societies. This involves grasping each group with its local, particular rationale, culture, and environment as well as its integration in scientific networks at national and transnational levels.

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