A Brief History of GIS

Clarke (1986) defines GISs as “computer assisted systems for the capture, storage, retrieval, analysis and display of spatial data.” Several similar definitions exist, but it has been noted by Cowen (1988) that the use of such vague definitions are a disservice to the field. He goes on to describe four more precise approaches for defining GISs:

The Process-Oriented Approach originates from an article by Calkins and Tomlinson (1977) and describes a GIS as a process for the input, storage, retrieval, analysis, and output of geographic information. This description holds the closest similarity to that of .

The Application Approach defines GISs in terms of their purpose. Pavlidis (1982) provides several suggested categories for this, such as: natural resource inventory systems, urban systems, planning and evaluation systems, management command and control systems, and citizen scientific systems.

The Toolbox Approach views GISs as a collections of tools, functions and algorithms which are used to convert raw data into the output required by the user. By this definition a GIS is not complete without the full range of features fitting the whole process of input, output and analysis. Tomlinson and Boyle (1981) provides an earlier delineation of the functions required by a GIS.

The Database Approach is a variant of the toolbox approach which was originally described by Goodchild (1985) as “a system which uses a spatial database to provide answers to queries of a geographical nature.” This definition encompasses spatial databases as GISs in their own right.

These definitions vary significantly between authors and it is the case that, depending on the context, many systems related to geospatial information could be considered GISs. In this report, a GIS will be viewed from the process-orientated approach as the collaborative geospatial environment will serve as a system to support the process of manipulating raw data into a user-presentable view.

One reason for the existence of so many vague definitions for GISs is that it is a young technology which is deeply rooted in a well established science. The science of cartography goes back centuries and was aimed at plotting topography, the lie of the land and transportation features (Clarke, 2001). As early as 1912 thematic cartography had documented use. One of the first examples being the mapping of the city extent of Düsseldorf at several time periods (Steinitz et al., 1976). Following this, overlays began to be used more heavily. An example of this is by MIT researchers who calculated the desirability of highways. They achieved this by using overlaid maps in several combinations depending on their weighting (Clarke, 2001).

Following this initial research many years of rapid evolution occurred. Geospatial researchers grasped every opportunity to develop the processes and systems in line with the evolution of computing. The arrival of modular computer programming languages and personal computers provided a more accessible platform on which research could be performed and so added momentum to the progress being made (Clarke, 2001). More recently with the abundant interconnectivity through networking, there has been a shift towards the development of collaborative tools.

This shift in direction can be attributed to the widespread emergence of the Internet and the growth in international corporations. It involved a thrust towards research and development in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). This technology is required to assist with work done outside of “same-place, same-time,” within space-time typology (Grudin, 1994). Geospatial research followed suit by studying synchronous and asynchronous collaboration activities (Braun and Guertin, 1997, Sarjakoski, 1998, Carver et al., 1998), perspectives and negotiation (Boland and Tenkasi, 1995, Harvey, 1997), representing participants and facilitating joint behaviour (Ferrand, 1996) and the usability of tools and environments (Jankowski and Stasik, 1997, Brkljac and Counsell, 1999).


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P. Braun and D. P. Guertin. Public Access to Spatial Data: Neighborhood Association Information Needs in Tucson, Arizona. In Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual ESRI User Conference, Palm Springs, CA, July 1997. URL http://www.esri.com/library/userconf/proc97/proc97/to350/pap302/p302.htm .

N. Brkljac and J. Counsell. Usability of associated gis and vrml urban models. In Proceedings of the 1999 International Conference on Information Visualisation, page 550, Washington, DC, USA, 1999. IEEE Computer Society. ISBN 0-7695- 0210-5.

H. W. Calkins and Roger F Tomlinson. Geographic information systems: methods and equipment for land use planning. International Geographic Union Commission on Geographical Data Sensing and Processing. Resource and Land Investigations (RALI) Program, Virginia, 1977.

S. Carver, R. Kingston, and I. Turton. Accessing gis over the web: An aid to public participation in environmental decision-making. In GISRUK ’98, volume 98, pages 98–3, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1998. URL http://www.ccg.leeds.ac.uk/vdmisp/publications/paper1.html .

Keith C. Clarke. Advances in geographic information systems. Computers, environment and urban systems, 10(3-4):175–184, 1986.

Keith C. Clarke. Getting started with geographic information systems. Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2 edition, 2001. ISBN 0139238891 9780139238895.

David J. Cowen. GIS versus CAD versus DBMS: What are the differences? Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sens., 54(11):1551–1555, 1988.

N. Ferrand. Modelling and supporting multi-actor spatial planning using multiagents systems. In Proceedings of the Third NCGIA Conference on Integrating GIS and Environmental Modelling, pages 21–25, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, January 1996. URL http://www.ncgia.ucsb.edu/conf/SANTA_FE_CD-ROM/sf_papers/ferrand_nils/santafe.html .

M. F. Goodchild. Geographic information systems in undergraduate geography: A contemporary dilemma. The Operational Geographer, 8(1):34–38, 1985.

Jonathan Grudin. Computer-supported cooperative work: history and focus. Computer, 27(5):19–26, 1994. doi: 10.1109/2.291294. URL http://dx.doi.org/10. 1109/2.291294.

Francis Harvey. Improving multi-purpose GIS design: Participative design. In COSIT ’97: Proceedings of the International Conference on Spatial Information Theory, pages 313–328, London, UK, 1997. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 3-540-63623-4.

P. Jankowski and M. Stasik. Design considerations for space and time distributed collaborative spatial decision making. Journal of Geographic Information and Decision Analysis, 1:1–8, 1997.

M. G. Pavlidis. Database management for geographic information systems. In Proc. National Conference on Energy Resource Management, volume 1, pages 255–260, 1982.

T. Sarjakoski. Networked gis for public participation–emphasis on utilizing image data. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 22(4):381– 392, 1998. ISSN 0198-9715. doi: DOI:10.1016/S0198-9715(98)00031-3. URL http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V9K-3X6JG78-6/2/2f647d508ac9d1c0d4e7bc3cc4eeb67b .

C. Steinitz, P. Parker, and L. Jordan. Hand drawn overlays: their history and prospective uses. Landscape Architecture, 66(5):444–455, 1976.

Roger F Tomlinson and A Raymond Boyle. The state of development of systems for handling natural resources inventory data. Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization, 18(4):65–95, October 1981. ISSN 0317-7173 1911-9925. doi: 10.3138/7262-N455-7101-5347. URL http://utpjournals.metapress.com/content/7262n45571015347 .

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