© 2011

A Science of Operations

Machines, Logic and the Invention of Programming


Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages I-IX
  2. Mark Priestley
    Pages 1-15
  3. Mark Priestley
    Pages 17-51
  4. Mark Priestley
    Pages 53-65
  5. Mark Priestley
    Pages 67-98
  6. Mark Priestley
    Pages 99-121
  7. Mark Priestley
    Pages 123-155
  8. Mark Priestley
    Pages 157-183
  9. Mark Priestley
    Pages 185-224
  10. Mark Priestley
    Pages 225-252
  11. Mark Priestley
    Pages 277-296
  12. Mark Priestley
    Pages 297-306
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 307-341

About this book


Today, computers fulfil a dazzling array of roles, a flexibility resulting from the great range of programs that can be run on them.

A Science of Operations examines the history of what we now call programming, defined not simply as computer programming, but more broadly as the definition of the steps involved in computations and other information-processing activities.  This unique perspective highlights how the history of programming is distinct from the history of the computer, despite the close relationship between the two in the 20th century.  The book also discusses how the development of programming languages is related to disparate fields which attempted to give a mechanical account of language on the one hand, and a linguistic account of machines on the other.

Topics and features:

  • Covers the early development of automatic computing, including Babbage’s “mechanical calculating engines” and the applications of punched-card technology
  • Examines the theoretical work of mathematical logicians such as Kleene, Church, Post and Turing, and the machines built by Zuse and Aiken in the 1930s and 1940s
  • Discusses the role that logic played in the development of the stored program computer
  • Describes the “standard model” of machine-code programming popularised by Maurice Wilkes
  • Presents the complete table for the universal Turing machine in the Appendices
  • Investigates the rise of the initiatives aimed at developing higher-level programming notations, and how these came to be thought of as ‘languages’ that could be studied independently of a machine
  • Examines the importance of the Algol 60 language, and the framework it provided for studying the design of programming languages and the process of software development
  • Explores the early development of object-oriented languages, with a focus on the Smalltalk project
  • This fascinating text offers a new viewpoint for historians of science and technology, as well as for the general reader.  The historical narrative builds the story in a clear and logical fashion, roughly following chronological order.

    Authors and affiliations

    1. 1.School of InformaticsUniversity of WestminsterLondonUnited Kingdom

    Bibliographic information

    • Book Title A Science of Operations
    • Book Subtitle Machines, Logic and the Invention of Programming
    • Authors Mark Priestley
    • Series Title History of Computing
    • Series Abbreviated Title History of Computing
    • DOI
    • Copyright Information Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011
    • Publisher Name Springer, London
    • eBook Packages Computer Science Computer Science (R0)
    • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-84882-554-3
    • Softcover ISBN 978-1-4471-2635-5
    • eBook ISBN 978-1-84882-555-0
    • Series ISSN 2190-6831
    • Series E-ISSN 2190-684X
    • Edition Number 1
    • Number of Pages X, 342
    • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
    • Topics History of Computing
    • Buy this book on publisher's site


    “This book is the only one existing which provides an overview of some of the most important programming language notations and computing machines, giving much attention also to the more technical aspects of programming and the discussions that surround(ed) it. It is thus an important addition to the literature and complements more externally-oriented histories of programming … .” (Liesbeth De Mol, Mathematical Reviews, May, 2015)

    “Mark Priestley had carried out an important pioneering work in analysing the intellectual development of programming, and that his book raises and discusses many very interesting philosophical questions concerned with programming languages. Given the central role of computing in modern life, the jury thought that Mark Priestley’s book could form the starting point of further important philosophical investigations into the nature of programming and programming languages. For these reasons, they decided to give the book a special commendation.” (Fernando Gil International Prize,, February, 2014)

    “This is a book written for specialist historians, and is priced accordingly. … an important book, and one which will be of interest and use to a broad range of scholars working on topics in mathematics, logic, computing or the history of information technology more generally. … this book does it does well, and there is no comparable work encompassing such an impressive breadth of material or detail. For historians of computing, The Science of Operations will become an essential text.” (Nathan Ensmenger, British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 45 (1), March, 2012)

    “Priestley makes an important distinction in his book: that of unpacking programming from the hardware, which is an intriguing twist for the history of computing. This work will be of interest to programmers and computer scientists, as well as to a more general audience. … Although this is a work on technical programming, it could benefit from illustrations, and thus appeal to a wider readership.” (G. Mick Smith, ACM Computing Reviews, November, 2011)

    “Priestley is a computer scientist who has previously published books on object-oriented design and programming. This work, which grew out of the author’s PhD thesis, is a history of computer programming and the connections between formal logic and programming. … much of the historical narrative should be accessible to all readers … . Summing Up: Recommended. History of computing collections serving graduate students through professionals and general audiences.” (B. Borchers, Choice, Vol. 48 (11), August, 2011)