When Maps Go Digital

Posted by Penny in Articles

I arrived at college in 1984 with my electric typewriter and a bit of BASIC learned in high school. I was a geography major, and learned to make maps in a cartography lab with vellum, ink, light tables, X-acto knives, and rub-on letters. I stopped using the electric typewriter within a year or two. Mapmaking was also changing rapidly. While making this gallery, I found a great pair of photos on the Commons to capture the moment of change:


Eunice ‘Biki’ Wilson, 1984

Geography Department, 1986

These photos were taken at the London School of Economics, two years apart. The photo on the left, taken in 1984, shows a cartographer in the Geography Department, Eunice Wilson, working on a map of Great Britain. She’s holding a pen, and two rotary phones are visible nearby. The photo on the right is taken in 1986, also in the Geography Department, but here the woman working on a map of France is using a handheld device (maybe a scanner), and a single-drive Macintosh computer is nearby. Another computer is behind her.

Are both women using the same model desk lamp? Maybe; some designs are classic.

4 Responses to “When Maps Go Digital”

  1. Ian Turton Says:

    The woman on the right looks like she is using a flat bed digitiser. (the link is broken so I can’t see a larger image to be sure). It is a mouse like device which you place over the feature you want to digitise and then you click the button at each vertex to send the information to the computer. The table bit has some clever electronics in it to track where the sensor is when the button is pressed.

    It was slow, hard and boring work but pretty much the only way to convert paper maps in to digital data to use in a GIS.

  2. Stephanie Fysh Says:

    Here’s a direct link, Ian! http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/3989341187/

  3. The Arrival of Digital Cartography | geo2web.com Says:

    [...] Cartographers were still using pen and paper in the 1980s, Penny reports. “I arrived at college in 1984 with my electric typewriter and a bit of BASIC learned in high school. I was a geography major, and learned to make maps in a cartography lab with vellum, ink, light tables, X-acto knives, and rub-on letters.” The above photo, of LSE Geography Department cartographer Eunice Wilson, was taken in 1984. Another photo from the LSE , also featured in Penny’s curated Flickr gallery of women and maps, shows computer-based cartography only two years later. Via Cartographie. [...]

  4. Friday Five: Change is in the air « barefootsong Says:

    [...] moment Two years in time: I was fascinated by [this post] at the indicommons blog showing how cartography changed in a two-year span in the 1980s. [...]

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