History of GIS - Lecture Material - Completely GIS dan Remote Sensing tutorial - facegis.com
History of GIS

1. Past to Present

'GIS' as we know it is about 30 years old, but we can recognise its earlier roots:


  • Modern surveying techniques -> topographic mapping
  • Data collection (scientific, census) -> thematic mapping

Mid 1850s

  • First recognised spatial analysis example and use of overlays; first 'calculating machines'
  • 1900-50s

    • Photo-lithography: separation of maps into layers;  first computers

    1960s First general purpose computer mapping packages

    • SYMAP, SYMVU, GRID:  Laid foundation for raster (GRID) GIS
    • Sparked great interest in computer mapping:  Developed many early GIS pioneers

    1967 World's first 'GIS': CGIS (Canadian GIS)

    • Data collected by Canada Land Inventory (CLI): Land  capability for rural Canada
    • Themes: soils, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, waterfowl, forestry, present land use
    • Rating 1 (best) to 7 (poorest);   Scale 1:250,000


    • Had no precedent for overlay, measurement
    • Digitizing and experimental Scanner used for map input
    • Geo-coordinates for entire country
    • Coding of lines as arcs with embedded topology
    • Separation of attribute and location files
    • First system, leader (Roger Tomlinson)  known as "father of GIS"
    However it encountered too many problems; was completed too late to compete with vendor systems
    For more info on the Canada Land Inventory System, see:  http://geogratis.cgdi.gc.ca/CLI/frames.html


    • First commercial mapping software (Intergraph)
    • Development of mini-computers as GIS platform (previously all were mainframes)

    1980s The GIS decade

    • First GIS to utilise new mini computers;   release of Arc/Info in 1982

    • Incorporated features from the CGIS,  separation of spatial data: 'arc' and attributes: 'info'
    • First release of IBM Personal Computer (1981) ... [spread of home and office computers]

    1985: The real growth occurred with standard Unix workstations and personal computers

    • Unix workstations: SUN, IBM, HP, SGI (1985)
    • First GIS textbook and journal (1986), magazines and conferences(1987)
    • 386 computers and VGA display standard, Windows 'GUI' (1987)
    • Unix and DOS/Windows -> 'stable' platforms for GIS  .... [two different versions]
    • Rapid increase in available GIS software packages


    • Geometric increase in power, decrease in costs.
    • Windows NT and 95 as alternative to Unix  .... [same version, two platforms].
    • 'Viewer' software (e.g. Arcview, Geodata); Consolidation of GIS software (fewer packages).

    2. Current GIS Trends

    System Integration:     Raster, Vector GIS and CAD, Desktop Mapping and GPS data.
    Data Availability:        Public and corporate datasets; more data collection  e.g. GPS, satellite data.
    Data Transfer:            More file import and export options;  3rd party  databases, e.g. Access, Oracle.
    Open GIS:                       'Interoperability':   see www.ogis.com  and  www.regis.berkeley.edu:80/ogis/ .
    New Satelite Data:       High resolution and relatively low cost data for commercial satellites.
    Visualization:                  Taking advantage of faster cheaper personal computers, for 3D animation.
    Web Based GIS:          "GIS for everyone, not just techno-geeks".

    3. Software

    From the 1980s, the GIS industry has been dominated by two large US-based companies producing vector software, strong in database management and map output: Intergraph and ESRI Canada

    CARIS is a Canadian GIS from Universal Systems in Fredericton, NB, started by a UNB engineering professor


    Until the mid 1990s there were several active canadian GIS vendors including two made in BC for the forest industry: PAMAP (Victoria) and Terrasoft (Nanaimo). These were used in industry and government, but no longer exist as separate packages. The same is true of Ottawa-based SPANS which was used by Parks Canada. SPANS and PAMAP are now part of Geomatica, from PCI geomatics an Ontario based company concentrating on (raster) satellite image processing.

    Two widely used raster GIS packages are GRASS and IDRISI.

    GRASS was developed by the US military, and can be freely downloaded European site also for the Macintosh here

    IDRISI is named after a 13th century arabic cartographer. Based at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, by a Canadian-born professor: Ron Eastman

    Other (vector) GIS software you may see in Northern BC include:  Manifold   Mapinfo    Smallworld agismap

    List of GIS software

    VerySpatial list version2

    Free GIS software: download list

    Things you should know after finishing this lecture:

    1. When & where was the first GIS developed?
    2. What  factor enabled the big GIS boom starting in the mid-1980s ?


    Source: http://www.gis.unbc.ca/courses/geog300/lectures/lect17/index.php