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Strachey 100: an Oxford Computing Pioneer

Christopher Strachey (1916–1975) was a pioneering computer scientist and the founder of the Programming Research Group, now part of the Department of Computer Science at Oxford University. Although Strachey was keenly interested in the practical aspects of computing, it is in the theoretical side that he most indelibly left his mark, notably by creating with Dana Scott the denotational (or as he called it, ‘mathematical’) approach to defining the semantics of programming languages. Strachey also spent time writing complex programs and puzzles for various computers, such as a draughts playing program for the Pilot ACE in 1951. He developed some fundamental concepts of machine-independent operating systems, including an early suggestion for time-sharing, and was a prime mover in the influential CPL programming language. Strachey came from a notable family of intellectuals and artists, perhaps most famous for Christopher’s uncle Lytton, a writer and member of the Bloomsbury group.

We marked the occasion of 100 years since Christopher Strachey's birth on Saturday 19th November 2016, three days after his birthday, with a symposium of invited speakers. The morning looked back at Strachey’s life and works from a historical and technical perspective, and the afternoon concerned continuing research themes in Computer Science inspired by Strachey, at Oxford and elsewhere. This podcast series has recordings of these talks.

# Episode Title Description People Date
1 Strachey: the Bloomsbury Years A historian’s perspective on the earlier years of Christopher Strachey’s life. The talk covers his familial connections, his early career as a school master, and his first computing projects. Martin Campbell-Kelly 26 Jun 2017
2 Strachey and the Oxford Programming Research Group Christopher Strachey’s right-hand man at Oxford talks about Strachey’s time as the head of the Programming Research Group (PRG). Joe Stoy 26 Jun 2017
3 Strachey and the development of CPL Chrisopher Strachey was the most significant contributor to the design and implementation of the programming language CPL. Martin Richards 26 Jun 2017
4 SIS, a semantics implementation system During Peter’s DPhil studies, supervised by Christopher Strachey, he developed a prototype of a system for executing programs based on their denotational semantics. Peter Mosses 26 Jun 2017
5 Semantic relationships: reducing the separation between practice and theory Christopher Strachey believed that the gap between theory and practice was impeding the development of computing science. Robert Milne 26 Jun 2017
6 Strachey: school master, language designer, colleague In this panel discussion, three people who knew Christopher Strachey in different contexts talk about their memories of him. Roger Penrose, Michael Jackson, David Hartley 26 Jun 2017
7 Greetings to the participants at “Strachey 100” The logician Dana Scott played a crucial part in the story of denotational semantics, working for a term with Christopher Strachey in Autumn 1969, when he created a mathematical model for the foundation of the method. Dana Scott 26 Jun 2017
8 A modelling language approach to defining mathematical structures via semantics In this talk, Jane presents about her work on modelling dynamic behaviour of systems using quantative modelling techniques. Particular kinds of modelling diagrams are used and a mathematical approach to looking at their meaning is presented. Jane Hillston 26 Jun 2017
9 Christopher Strachey, First-Class Citizen Philip reviews Christopher Strachey’s influence on modern-day functional programming languages. Philip Wadler 26 Jun 2017
10 Probabilistic Programming Hongseok begins by talking about a program of Strachey’s that wrote “love letters” using the Manchester University computer. He then uses this as a lead in for discussing probabilistic methods of generating algorithms and programs. Hongseok Yang 26 Jun 2017
11 Parametric Polymorphism and models of storage In this presentation, Uday brings together two strands of Christopher Strachey’s thought: parametric polymorphism and abstract models of storage. Uday Reddy 26 Jun 2017
12 What are types for? Types in programming languages are commonly thought of as a way of preventing certain bad things from happening, such as multiplying a number by a string. Jeremy Gibbons 26 Jun 2017