The following article first appeared in the ACSM Bulletin, No. 238, April, 2009, pp. 10–12. This was the year after the 2007-8 recession, precipitated by the collapse of mortgage-backed securities, really got serious.


Why Does Surveying Exist?

N.W.J. Hazelton


It is always sensible to be aware of the reasons for an organization or institution’s existence. In ‘normal’ times, focusing on the organization’s core principles is one of the requirements for a successful transition from good to great (part of the Hedgehog Concept: Collins, 2001). In economically straitened times, a focus on the raisons d’être can be critical to survival.

So it seems an opportune time to ask: Why does Surveying Exist? What is its purpose?

In this context, we can focus on ‘Surveying’ being the broader profession or discipline, covering a wide range of individuals, organizations and activities. We can leave the question of why specific professional organizations exist for another time.

We should also think about surveying globally. It is a global profession, so it should be dealing with fundamental social/environmental/physical problems that occur all over the planet. What are these problems, and do they help define the reasons why surveying exists?

This was the second paper that looked at previous surveying revolutions, then went on to look at the current revolution.


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


In a previous paper (Hazelton, 2012), the Surveying Revolution of 1550-1650 was discussed. This discussion is continued in this paper, with an attempt to find parallels between that revolution and the current Geospatial Revolution that started around 1950. The current revolution should be considered the fourth revolution, and it has stronger parallels to the third, especially with regard to timing, than the first two.

The critical point of revolutions has little to do with technology, methods and theory, than with how people see their world, i.e., how they think. The hunter-gatherer society had no conception of the life of a farmer, and little social structure to deal with having to change to that lifestyle. Similarly, the arrival of industrial society was extremely difficult for the agriculturally oriented people involved: Blake’s apparent description of early factories as “these dark Satanic Mills” was not an idle poetic construction. Today, as the Industrial Age changes into something else, our thinking is often stuck in what worked for the Industrial Age, not for the current situation. This is not surprising, because we have little other experience. As Industrial Age institutions become increasingly dysfunctional in new circumstances, Industrial Age thinking will not fix things.

While the nature of a new geospatial worldview cannot be discerned at present, there are indications about some of the important attributes of what might drive that worldview. These are presented and discussed in this paper.

In late January, 2016, I took part in a one-day workshop on "The Future of Surveying," in San Diego. This was organized and funded by NCEES, although they tried to keep a back seat and let the discussion proceed where it may. Thanks and kudos to NCEES for organizing this, and putting in the money to get it to happen.

That meeting inspired me to generate some blog posts on the topic, in an effort to wide the discussion on what needs to happen to create a bright future for surveying. I hope that you enjoy these articles. They are meant to be provocative, to make you think. Too often we try to solve problems with the same thinking that created them, something that Einstein warned us was sure path to failure. So these are designed to give you different viewpoints and stimulate getting you, the reader, involved in the discussion.

Bill Hazelton

2nd February, 2016.

This is a copy of a paper I presented in 2015 at the SaGES Conference in Maine, discussing aspects of the past. While the past can be a guide for the future, it is also important not to become so wrapped up in it that the paths taken before become the only paths available. There are always other ways to go. But a look at the environment around surveying in the past, and how things changed then, can give us some insights into the processes happening now.

The Surveying Revolution of 1550–1650: An Examination and Implications for the Current Geospatial Revolution — Part I


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.

An earlier version of this paper was published in SaLIS (Hazelton, 2012).