Alan J. Perlis

Papers, 1942-1989

CBI 64


4.5 cubic feet in 6 boxes

Creator: Perlis, Alan J., 1922-1989

By: Pat Hennessy, March 1991

ACQUISITION: The records were given to the Charles Babbage Institute by Mrs. Alan J. Perlis in 1990 and the Association for Computing Machinery in 1990.

ACCESS: The collection is unrestricted.

COPYRIGHT: The Charles Babbage Institute holds the copyright to all materials in the collection, except for items covered by a prior copyright (such as published materials). Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Please cite the collection as follows: Alan J. Perlis Papers (CBI 64), Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


Alan J. Perlis received a B.S. in chemistry from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1943, and an M.S. (1949) and Ph.D (1950) in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). At M.I.T. he worked on Project Whirlwind from 1948-1949, and again in 1952, after a year at the Ballistic Research Laboratories, Aberdeen Proving Ground. In 1952 he became director of the Computing Laboratory and an assistant professor of Mathematics at Purdue University. In 1956 he took a position at Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie-Mellon University). There he was director of the computation center, 1956-1960; chair of the Department of Mathematics, 1960-1964; and chair of the Computer Science Department, 1965-1971. In 1971 he was appointed Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science at Yale, and served as chair of the Computer Science Department 1976-1980, except for the 1977-1978 year when he was the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology.

Throughout his professional life, his dominant interest remained programming languages. In the mid-1950s, Perlis began to design the IT (Internal Translator) compiler at Purdue and he completed the project after moving to Carnegie Institute of Technology. As chair of the Association for Computer Machinery committee charged to develop a common universal programming language in 1957, he worked to create ALGOL. ALGOL is a second generation language which led to PASCAL and other derivative languages and helped establish new standards for the development of programming languages. Later, Perlis worked with APL while at Yale.

Perlis wrote several articles and books on programming and compilers including an introductory text on computer programming. Perlis was active in the Association for Computer Machinery, becoming the first editor of Communications of the ACM (1958-1962), and president of the ACM from 1962 to 1964.

Perlis received the A. N. Turing Award of the ACM in 1966 and the AFIPS Education Award in 1984.

Scope and Content

Correspondence, class handouts, lecture notes and visual aids, published articles and reports, subject files, audio tapes and videotapes relating to Perlis' work in computer science education, programming languages, and compiler programs. The collection includes transcripts and recordings of classroom lectures for one course and notes for other course that Perlis taught. Committee records include minutes, correspondence, and reports from committees on which Perlis served including a number of Yale faculty committees. Perlis' M.S. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation are included in his subject files along with information on the programming languages ALGOL, APL, and LISP, and several compilers including the IT compiler. The audio tapes include a panel discussion and a discussion of the Strategic Defense Initiative. The videotapes document the fortieth anniversary of ACM and includes a segment on Perlis.

Arrangement of the Collection

Index Terms


Class Materials, 1962-1987

This series contains class assignments, problems, examinations, notes, and some transparencies Perlis used in his lectures.

Committee Records, 1976-1987

These files have minutes, correspondence, and reports from committees on which Perlis served; they are arranged alphabetically by institution name.

Conference Records, 1956-1989

These files include: proceedings, agendas, flyers, an abstract and transcript of a talk, and correspondence, all arranged chronologically by year.

Correspondence, 1969-1989

The correspondence is arranged in two subseries: general correspondence and subject correspondence. The latter subseries is correspondence filed by subject headings in Perlis' files. All other correspondence is arranged chronologically in the general correspondence subseries.

Subject Files, 1942-1987

The subject files include Perlis' M.I.T thesis and dissertation, a 1958 CMU Automatic Programming Study reports and proposal to the Army Signal Corps, published articles and reports as well as research notes and background materials. Other topics include programming languages, such as APL, ALGOL, LISP; and Carnegie Institute of Technology compilers, including TASS, THAT, GATE, GATE-20, and IT (Internal Translator).

Talks and Lectures, 1951-1988

This series consists largely of overhead transparencies. There are also some notes and transcripts of speeches, and Aberdeen Proving Grounds BRL Lecture notes from 1951. This series is arranged alphabetically by subject.

Audio Tapes and Video Tapes, undated and 1985

This series includes audio recordings of a panel discussion involving Perlis, a discussion of the Strategic Defense Initiative, a series of lectures given by Perlis on translators and assembly systems, and class lectures keyed to Perlis' lecture notes in the first series. The original recordings of Perlis' class lectures were made on microcassettes at half speed. Dubbing the poor sound quality originals to standard cassettes has lessened the clarity of the lectures. The video tapes are of the ACM fortieth anniversary celebration which includes a segment on Alan Perlis.