A History of Distributed Mapping

Jeremy W. Crampton



My intent in this paper is to answer two questions: what were the principal events in the development of distributed mapping, and how should a narrative of its development be written? Distributed mapping is a mode of cartography arising from the convergence of the World Wide Web, GIS, and digital cartography. It marks a significant break with traditional cartography because (1) the set of rules that shape the map archive are being fundamentally altered; (2) the distributivity of spatial data, their analysis and visualization are at unprecedented levels; and (3) new forms of interactivity are emerging. After discussing some theoretical issues in the history of cartography, I locate the multiple origins of distributed mapping in the work on animated mapping during the quantitative revolution in geography and the availability of computing power from the 1960s through the 1980s. The technology is a series of non-deterministic negotiations with resistance leading to delays in implementation, back-tracking, and multiple avenues of exploration. The popularization of the World Wide Web during the latter part of the 1990s brought commercial attention to distributed mapping, not as cartography, but as support service for travel sales channels. Commercialization will detach distributed mapping from academic geography as it did with GIS before it. In conclusion, I outline the forseeable research issues for distributed mapping.


distributed mapping; history

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