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The Surveying Revolution of 1550-1650: Implications for the Current Geospatial Revolution—Part I

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The historical development of surveying technology and techniques is briefly reviewed and discussed, with an emphasis on the period 1550-1650 AD. Changes during this time were revolutionary, because technology and techniques, as well as practitioners' worldviews and most theory, were completely changed. The evidence of the rapidity and completeness of that change is still with us today, especially in North America. The pattern of the change, examined in the larger historical context, shows that the revolution of 1550-1650 has the characteristics of many historical revolutions, such as the Industrial Revolution. A long period of stasis, where little change is apparent over short periods of time (decades); an acceleration of change, culminating in a brief period of very rapid and deep change, which quickly spreads; and a return to a very different stasis. The revolution is not just a technological change, but is a major change in the worldview of the profession as a whole. During the hundred-year period of the revolution, surveying changed from being a local practice to having a global model of its world; from using simple arithmetic and rectangular measurement systems to driving mathematical theory in geodesy and error analysis; from being largely pictorial to being largely computational. The ideas developed in this paper (Part I) lay the foundation for the discussion in Part II, where the current revolution in surveying and mapping is examined and placed into a similar context.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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