A graduate from a Geography degree in the mid-1970s asks ‘what is GIS?’: coming to GIS by a circuitous route

Walford, Nigel (2016) A graduate from a Geography degree in the mid-1970s asks ‘what is GIS?’: coming to GIS by a circuitous route. In: Royal Geographical Society (RGS) with the Institute of British Geographers (IBG) Annual International Conference: Nexus Thinking; 30 Aug - 02 Sep 2016, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


The term GIS had existed in the literature for over 10 years by the mid-1970s and textbooks studied by British undergraduate geography students certainly included explanations of different types of spatial analysis, such as manually determining the shortest route through a transport network. However, the notion of studying GIS (or even using computers to learn about statistical methods) was still a long way off and would not become commonplace for more than two decades. This paper charts a personal journey undertaken over more than 40 years from an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree (major subject Geography) in the 1970s, through doctoral research incorporating spatial interpolation techniques in relation temporal rather than spatial data, manipulating and mapping census data to academic researcher in GIS. Geographical Information Systems and Science have come of age, matured and set off in new directions during this period. This paper shares the experiences of adapting to the arrival and transformation of GISS from the perspective of a geography graduate and explores the challenges of applying the technology in interdisciplinary research. It considers the role of GIS as a mediator between disciplines whose view of space is simply as a context or milieu in which non-spatial processes play out and geography together with cognate disciplines whose raison d’être is accounting for the role of space or geography in differentiating the outcomes of such processes.

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