1.4. A Brief History of CS 3110

This book is the primary textbook for CS 3110 at Cornell University. The course has existed for over two decades and has always taught functional programming, but it has not always used OCaml.

Once upon a time, there was a course at MIT known as 6.001 Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP). It had a textbook by the same name, and it used Scheme, a functional programming language. Tim Teitelbaum taught a version of the course at Cornell in Fall 1988, following the book rather closely and using Scheme.

CS 212. Dan Huttenlocher had been a TA for 6.001 at MIT; he later became faculty at Cornell. In Fall 1989, he inaugurated CS 212 Modes of Algorithm Expression. Basing the course on SICP, he infused a more rigorous approach to the material. Huttenlocher continued to develop CS 212 through the mid 1990s, using various homegrown dialects of Scheme.

Other faculty began teaching the course regularly. Ramin Zabih had taken 6.001 as a first-year student at MIT. In Spring 1994, having become faculty at Cornell, he taught CS 212. Dexter Kozen (Cornell PhD 1977) first taught the course in Spring 1996. The earliest surviving online record of the course seems to be Spring 1998, which was taught by Greg Morrisett in Dylan; the name of the course had become Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.

By Fall 1999, CS 212 had its own lecture notes. As CS 3110 still does, that instance of CS 212 covered functional programming, the substitution and environment models, some data structures and algorithms, and programming language implementation.

CS 312. At that time, the CS curriculum had two introductory programming courses, CS 211 Computers and Programming, and CS 212. Students took one or the other, similar to how students today take either CS 2110 or CS 2112. Then they took CS 410 Data Structures. The earliest surviving online record of CS 410 seems to be from Spring 1998. It covered many data structures and algorithms not covered by CS 212, including balanced trees and graphs, and it used Java as the programming language.

Depending on which course they took, CS 211 or 212, students were entering upper-level courses with different skill sets. After extensive discussions, the faculty chose to make CS 211 required, to rename CS 212 into CS 312 Data Structures and Functional Programming, and to make CS 211 a prerequisite for CS 312. At the same time, CS 410 was eliminated from the curriculum and its contents parceled out to CS 312 and CS 482 Introduction to Analysis of Algorithms. Dexter Kozen taught the final offering of CS 410 in Fall 1999.

Greg Morrisett inaugurated the new CS 312 in Spring 2001. He switched from Scheme to Standard ML. Kozen first taught it in Fall 2001, and Andrew Myers in Fall 2002. Myers began to incorporate material on modular programming from another MIT textbook, Program Development in Java: Abstraction, Specification, and Object-Oriented Design by Barbara Liskov and John Guttag. Huttenlocher first taught the course in Spring 2006.

CS 3110. In Fall 2008 two big changes came: the language switched to OCaml, and the university switched to four-digit course numbers. CS 312 became CS 3110. Myers, Huttenlocher, Kozen, and Zabih first taught the revised course in Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, and Fall 2010, respectively. Nate Foster first taught the course in Spring 2012; and Bob Constable and Michael George co-taught for the first time in Fall 2013.

Michael Clarkson (Cornell PhD 2010) first taught the course in Fall 2014, after having first TA’d the course as a PhD student back in Spring 2008. He began to revise the presentation of the OCaml programming material to incorporate ideas by Dan Grossman (Cornell PhD 2003) about a principled approach to learning a programming language by decomposing it into syntax, dynamic, and static semantics. Grossman uses that approach in CSE 341 Programming Languages at the University of Washington and in his popular Programming Languages MOOC.

In Fall 2018 the compilation of this textbook began. It synthesizes the work of over two decades of functional programming instruction at Cornell. In the words of the Cornell Evening Song,

‘Tis an echo from the walls
Of our own, our fair Cornell.