Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 1999

Book Reviews

The History of Geographic Information Systems: Perspectives from the Pioneers

Nestor Osorio
Associate Professor
Northern Illinois University

The History of Geographic Information Systems: Perspectives from the Pioneers. Timothy Foresman, editor. Prentice Hall, 1998, 416 p. ISBN 0-13-862145-4
The editor of this work has over twenty years of professional experience in the field of remote sensing and geographic information systems.  Dr. Foresman with the help of other twenty-seven GIS professionals has put together what might be the first truly comprehensive treatment of the history of GIS.

This book is divided into seven sections and nineteen chapters covering a broad range of interesting topics about this relatively new field. Although the roots of GIS can be tracked back to the 1950's, it is in the last twenty-five years when it has been recognized as such.  The first three chapters present the early years, followed by several chapters where the historical perspective of a number of significant technical advances in computing allowed for major contributions to the development of geographic information systems. A recount of applications of GIS in particular in the areas of land information systems, agriculture and forestry is included. Another aspect of this work is the presentation of contributions made to the field by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and state and local initiatives.  Also the history of GIS in European countries, Australia and Canada are well covered.

The list of sources included at the end of each chapter can be considered a good bibliographic source for readers wanting to learn in more detail about the major developments which occurred in the last twenty five years of GIS, a fascinating area in the history of technology with some interesting social implications.

Previous efforts of detailing the history of this field are described in a chapter written by Coppock and Rhind (1991) "The History of GIS" included in the well known reference source "Geographical Information Systems: Principles and Applications" by Maguire, Goodchild, and Rhind. It is a well done scholarly summary but with significant omissions such as the raster based GIS as well as the engineering and applications of GIS.  Another important source is "The GIS History Project" (2) of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA)" under the direction of Dr. David Mark from SUNY-Buffalo. The purpose of this project is to be the archival center for valuable documents related to the development, usage, social issues, etc of GIS and to serve as a clearinghouse for GIS historical information.

Therefore, Dr. Foresman's book is a comprehensive history of GIS written for professional practitioners, developers and students.  The author believes that an understanding of the history of GIS, and the reasons they were designed will help us to understand the power of geographical information systems and geographical positioning systems of today. It is an assumption to seriously consider if we take into account how GIS can be part of our daily life.

1. Geographical Information Systems: Principles and Applications, edited by D. J. Maguire, M. Goodchild, and D. Rhind. New York: Wiley, 1991.
2. The GIS History Project, at: http://www.geog.buffalo.edu/ncgia/gishist/


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