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Archive of Peter Landin, computer scientist, academic and gay rights campaigner


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Material in the collection ranges from the early 1950s until the mid 2000s with the bulk of papers dating from 1960s-1970s. Papers from these years chart Landin's creative pioneering contributions to the discipline of computer science, specifically programming languages, and then gradual waning of enthusiasm for, and cynicism towards, computer science. The majority of the material is made up of:
  1. Landin’s own handwritten notes for a range of different functions and contexts such as: research, subject files, political and social aphorisms and observations, drafts and notes for publications, annotations on revisiting his own notes and teaching ideas
  2. correspondence, mostly incoming correspondents with some drafts and copies of outgoing. Due to the nature of the papers, correspondence does not feature exclusively in the ‘Correspondence’ series (see arrangement note).
  3. publication papers including reprints, drafts and annotated working copies
  4. oganisational papers for lectures, seminars, conferences, summer schools and teaching abroad
  5. small amounts of newspaper clippings amongst papers, particularly in the series of activism and social political notes (MSS. Landin 9, 17-23, 60, 128).
It is also worth noting that throughout the collection, Landin has kept and written on the back of much ephemeral material such as posters, leaflets, pamphlets and correspondence from charities and organisations he supported.


  • 1953-2006, n.d.


22.35 linear metres (148 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Polish
  • Russian

Conditions Governing Access

Personal or commercial material of a sensitive nature is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to reproduce material in any way must be sought and obtained from the rights holder - Daniel Landin. Contact the library in the first instance.

Some material is fragile due to Landin's editing process of using sellotape to combine pieces of paper. Handle with care.

Third party copyright exists in the archive.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folder or page reference, e.g. MS. Landin 1, folder 1].
Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Landin 1-148

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 7275, 21089


Archive of Peter Landin (1930-2009) computer scientist, academic and gay rights campaigner.

Biographical / Historical

Peter Landin (1930-2009) was born in Sheffield and attended Clare College, Cambridge University reading Mathematics, completing part three of the maths degree in algebra and logic within two years. Upon finishing his studies, he spent a year researching mathematical logic at Sheffield City Library, reading textbooks in cafés and and contemplating what he wished to do with his life. Here, Landin met the eccentrist Mervyn Pragnell and was recruited to his high-powered informal underground study group on mathematical logic, where he would also meet Rod Burstall.

The early part of Landin's career was industry based. Landin worked, and had a particular interest in, the mathematical basis of computer programming. In the mid 1950s Landin was employed at English Electric Company, and in 1960 he became research assistant to (and sole employee of) Christopher Strachey. Strachey, who was then an independent consultant, encouraged Landin to continue his own independent research and pursue the the clarification of his ideas on the semantics of programming languages alongside his work for Strachey. Landin was initially hired by Strachey to write a compiler to translate the early programming language 'autocode' into the machine language of Ferranti's new Orion machine. Landin's radical approach was never finished, but underpins compiler writing to this day. Whilst Landin was working for Strachey he also defined the abstract operational SECD machine (Stack, Environment, Control, Dump) to evaluate lambda-calculus expressions. Landin published 'The Mechanical Evaluation of Expressions' which described SECD. Landin also published 'A Correspondence between ALGOL 60 and Church's lambda notation' and 'The next 700 Programming Languages in 1965-1966 respectively (see the series of Landin's drafts and published works, MSS. Landin 12-14, 75-80, 143, 146).

Landin was 'brain drained' to the United States, firstly to the Systems Programming Research department of Univac based in New York. Whilst working for Univac in 1965 Landin published a complete formal description of ALGOL 60, and was appointed to the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Working Group 2.1 on ALGOL and 2.2 on Programming Language Description alongside Strachey and Tony Hoare. Still based in the United States, Landin then moved to his first academic post: a lecturer in the department of electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he divided his time between project MAC and curriculum development for the department. By this time, Landin had two children with his wife Hanne: Daniel and Louise. In 1967, Landin was encouraged to return to the UK and applied to the chair of computer science position in the maths department at Queen Mary University of London (formerly Queen Mary College, until 1989). Whilst there he worked with academic and computer scientists on the department such as Georg Colouris and Richard Bornat. Landin and Bornat created an innovative method and course to teach programming languages from a logical principle perspective to undergraduates, something Landin called 'language free teaching'.

In the late 1960s-early 1970s Landin became fascinated in the consequences arising from the abuse of not just computers but technology in general, new methods to combat them, and novel forms of social organisation such as civil disobededience practiced by Bertrand Russell's Committee of 100. By 1973 he had amicably separated from Hanne, and as Landin became involved in the Gay Liberation Front his home at 27 Rona Road, NW3, became a place of facilitation and hatching of campaigns to support the gay rights movement. In Landin's own words his technical history ceased at around 1970, and the 1960s are referred to as Landin's golden years - however his archive attests to his constant evolution of teaching and communicating computer science throughout the 1970s to the early 2000s, alongside his interests and involvement in activism, facilitating social change and politics.

Landin died in June 2009. Modern day computing software relies heavily on concepts of formalising language semantics introduced by Landin and his contemporaries.


Original order has been preserved, and it was possible to identify five rough series of papers without superficially rearranging material. Original labelling by Landin has also been retained and is indicated throughout the catalogue with quotation marks. The arrangement of Landin's collection is as follows:
  1. Work papers
  2. Drafts, unpublished and published works
  3. Correspondence
  4. Activism and social-political notes
  5. Teaching records.
Due to the creative and chaotic way Landin worked and researched, there is some overlap to be expected from a few series: for example other series apart from correspondence also contain correspondence kepy by Landin amongst other papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the material was donated to the libraries by the Landin family in June 2011. MS. Landin 147 was later donated via Mike Spivey of Oxford department of computer science.

Related Materials

See also the Papers and correspondence of Christopher Strachey for Strachey's papers on Landin's time as his assistant, and subsequent collaboration.
Finding aid prepared by Kelly Burchmore. With cataloguing support from Cliff Jones and Mike Spivey.
Aug 2021
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom