Building Geospatial Foundations: Historic Ties for Modern Concerns

We think of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) as a modern concept. However, work in the 18th Century by surveyors such as George Washington and by George Hutchinson, the First Geographer of the United States, still impacts us today. The 19th Century saw foundational contributions by Thomas Jefferson and from the early years of the US Geological Survey.

This presentation reviews the historic role of mapping in the United States and how mapping was essential information for both governing and funding government and for enabling economic activity. This was especially true as the country rapidly expanded in the 1800s. Mapping, institutions, and standards birthed in the 19th and 20th Centuries, both nationally and at the state-level were the foundation for our 21st Century NSDI. Those 19th Century foundations were sturdily built by people who would never know the full future value of their work from which we benefit today. This presentation will also look at how national work on standards, notably by the Open Geospatial Consortium and, more recently, by working groups convened by the National Emergency Numbering Association, is enabling some of the 21st Century's most important geospatial developments. Building sturdy foundations is hard and difficult work remains. This presentation concludes by looking at 1) the Geospatial Data Act and the incomplete foundation for geospatial governance and, 2) how laying a foundation to make geospatial data openly available can yield significant economic benefits.

Whatever foundations we build, collectively or individually, should be built well and thoughtfully. Our geospatial successors will thank us.

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