Computers and the Renaissance of Cartography (1976)

12 June, 2010

While sorting out our departmental GIS library, I came across a small booklet titled Computers and the Renaissance of Cartography from 1976. It was written by Dr Tom Margerison, the first editor of New Scientist, and describes the activities of the Experimental Cartography Unit (ECU), which pioneered the use of computers for geographical and cartographical applications. Though Prof. David Rhind told me that the description should be taken with a pinch of salt, and that there are alternative accounts.

Interestingly, the ECU operated within the Royal College of Art to encourage new designs and innovations in map making. It was established in 1967 and operated until the late 1980s.
The booklet provides a description of the main processes of assembling maps at the ECU in the middle of the 1970s, and what is especially interesting is to see some amazing outputs of maps from that time, which, unlike the typical crude output of Symap, are beautiful and clear.
I have asked Dan Lewis, who was involved in the digitising of the CATMOG catalogue of booklets about quantitative methods in geography, to turn this booklet into PDF format so we can share it. Dan put some of the maps on his blog .

If you want to download the booklet – it is now available here.

Today is a good day to publish this booklet, following the announcement that Prof. Peter Woodsford, who was among the founders of Laser-Scan (now 1Spatial), received an MBE for his services to the geographic information industry in the Queen’s birthday honours list, and it was the equipment of Laser-Scan that enabled the creation of these maps.

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3 Responses to “Computers and the Renaissance of Cartography (1976)”


  1. Excellent find, Muki. Two questions:

    Is there an entry on the ECU in Volume 6 of the History of Cartography (Monmonier, ed.).

    What connections were there between the ECU and the Harvard Graphics Lab?

    • mukih Says:

      The answer to 1 – I’ve no idea. I’m somewhat aware of the History of Cartography project, but never seen any of its volumes!
      About the second question – they knew about each other – there is some information about it in the link that I provided in the Big Book of GIS and also in the History of GIS volume.

  2. Dave Unwin Says:

    Muki: I used to have a copy and I think that Jason Dykes or Jo Wood may have inherited it from me. You may not know that ESRI are trying to establish an archive of GIS and computer geography in USA. I am trying to get some UK and European stuff in the mix, if only to make the point that it wasn’t all CGIS, Harvard and ESRI (as UNIT 23 in the old CC seemed to think and as Foresman’s book likewise). In reply to Jeremy I think there was a little via Ken Rosing who attended the Harvard SYMAP course and brought it to UCL circa 1965 at about the same time that David Bickmore was setting up the ECU. Some very good folk worked at ECU, notably Rhind, Evans, Drummond and the late Vince Gardiner (al of whom were/are geomorphologists with a strong scientific training). I visited ECU circa 1973 but can’t recall much about the visit apart from David Bickmore’s dog.

    I’d appreciate ideas about what from UK should go into a UK box or two in the ESRI archive.


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