The Model 501 Spatial Data Plotter: Making the Digital, Physical in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Authors: John Swab*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Cartography, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: 3D modeling, quantitative revolution, development of GIS, urban geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

From globes to raised relief maps to today’s research in 3D map production, physical three-dimensional modeling has long been a critical visualization method for cartographers. While the results are useful, the costs of making such representations has historically precluded their widespread availability. Using artifacts from the Model 501 Three-Dimensional Plotter produced by Spatial Data Systems, Inc. in the late 1960s, this presentation examines the early intellectual history of digitally-created, physically-produced three-dimensional modeling. While such innovations were never fully embraced, their development in the 1960s mirrored the need for new forms of visualization as part of the Quantitative Revolution and the larger Cold War. The development of this machine also highlights the ways in which geographic visualization was a project that extended beyond the boundaries of the discipline. This presentation situates the challenges of producing early physical three-dimensional modeling in relationship to larger computer-based cartography and data visualization in the mid-twentieth century. It also places ongoing cartographic developments in relationship to decisions made in the 1960s, showing the ways in which the success or failure of certain innovations can preclude their adoption for several decades.

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