The PhD thesis that paved the way for GIS

Few Ph.D. theses have this kind of impact in the industry!


Few Ph.D. theses have ever changed the world in the same world that Roger Tomlinson’s thesis has. Roger Tomlinson, widely considered as the “Father of GIS,” completed his Ph.D. entitled “Geographical Information Systems, Spatial Data Analysis and Decision Making in Government”  in 1974 at the Department of Geography, University College London. The thesis was based on his experiences gained during the development of the first Geographic Information System in the world for Canada Land Inventory.

The first thesis in GIS

The Ph.D. that paved the way for GIS

Finally, after spending the last four decades on a shelf within the Department of Geography at UCL, the thesis is now available for download here (they also OCRed the thesis, so it’s searchable like normal PDF files).

His Ph.D. thesis together with his pioneering work in creating the Canadian Geographic Information System in the early 1960’s paved the way for GIS and an entire industry that revolves around it today. Dr. Tomlinson’s work together with Dr. Dana Tomlin‘s work on Map Algebra is what makes GIS such a powerful tool. (Related: The story behind the Canadian Geographic Information System). The Ph.D. thesis might be over four decades old, but it is certainly interesting to read it even today! If you are interested, here’s the link to download the “The first thesis in GIS.”
SOURCEDepartment of Geography UCL
I am one of those passionate "Geo-geeks" and "Geo-people" who is just too excited about everything Geo and Management. Location information and spatial technologies are just too big to take a back seat and watch them revolutionize the world. Always curious and looking for ways to innovate, I guess that it comes naturally by the gene pool I inherited from an engineer Mom and a researcher Dad.


  1. Born into the GIS family in 1964 and bounced on Roger Tomlinson’s knee as an infant…

    “From the mid-1960s to 1970s, developments in GIS were mainly occurring at government agencies and at universities. In 1964, Howard Fisher established the Harvard Lab for Computer Graphics where many of the industries early leaders studied. The Harvard Lab produced a number of mainframe GIS applications including: SYMAP (Synagraphic Mapping System),CALFORM, SYMVU, GRID, POLYVRT, and ODYSSEY. ODYSSEY was first modern vector GIS and many of its features would form the basis for future commercial applications. Automatic Mapping System was developed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the late 1960s. This project then spawned the CIA’s World Data Bank, a collection of coastlines, rivers, and political boundaries, and the CAM software package that created maps at different scales from this data. This development was one of the first systematic map databases. In 1969, Jack Dangermond, who studied at the Harvard Lab for Computer Graphics, co-founded Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) with his wife Laura. ESRI would become in a few years the dominate force in the GIS marketplace and create ArcInfo and ArcView software. The first conference dealing with GIS took place in 1970 and was organized by Roger Tomlinson (key individual in the development of CGIS) and Duane Marble (professor at Northwestern University and early GIS innovator).”

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