Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Towards the Automated Map Factory: Early Automation at the U.S. Geological Survey

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Towards the Automated Map Factory: Early Automation at the U.S. Geological Survey

Article excerpt

Introduction

This study of cartographic change focuses on the labor process in cartography, specifically the ways in which the automation of cartographic work became a goal and policy at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) after World War II. In the context of this paper, "labor process" refers to the ways that work is organized and tasks are carried out in specific sectors of wage labor economies. Insofar as cartography in the twentieth century was primarily organized as a wage labor activity with a complexly articulated wage system, studies of the labor process are a necessary and critical component of a complete understanding of change in cartography. Specialization of tasks and workers within the mapping workforce became commonplace with the incorporation of new technologies, such as aerial photography and photogrammetry, which allowed a more detailed and rationalized division of workers according to education, training, pay scales, and professional status. A hallmark of industrial organization during the twentieth century, this differentiation is commonly associated with the management theories of F.W. Taylor, known broadly as "scientific management" (Taylor 1911, pp. 25-26).

Cartography offers few examples of large-scale mass production with high levels of labor specialization. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the USGS evolved into America's principal civilian mapping agency, responsible for the systematic large-scale mapping of the nation's land, water, and mineral resources (Edney 1986). During the twentieth century, mapmakers in the USGS (not unlike their counterparts in Europe) experienced numerous technological changes that drastically altered the ways in which work was performed and organized. As will be seen, some of these changes came from within the mapping community while others came from outside. In addition, the scientific-technical nature of the work required highly trained professional workforce composed of engineers, technicians, surveyors, and cartographers, who, in the postwar period, found themselves in highly centralized and industrial workplaces with a rigid, hierarchical system of government employment categories and the associated wage schedules. At the USGS, this system gave a distinct advantage to individuals who either entered the agency with engineering credentials or were trained within the agency as engineers.

Maps and cartographic information produced by the USGS are peculiar commodities in the United States economy, insofar as they reflect activity in both the public and private sectors (McHaffie 1993). This mixture raises fundamental questions about the nature of the product itself, as well as the driving mechanisms behind technological change and the ways in which managers, supervisors, and directors achieve cooperation and acquiescence within the workforce. In the United States, the cartographic profession is characterized by a strong sense of corporatism or state capitalism, a shared ethic that accepts the existence of a strong public sector in mapping and the worth and benefits of large, publicly financed projects, such as the topographic mapping program.

The public-domain nature of the product has produced a phenomenon unusual in American public life: a long-term commitment to social goods and general acceptance of broader social and economic benefits than were immediately evident in the actual production process. Whether this ethic, which permeated professional life in American cartography in the twentieth century, fostered a measure of cooperation and acquiescence in the mapping workforce will remain an open question. Clearly the drive toward rationalization and standardization of production processes that occurred in the USGS throughout the century must be explained as a drive toward increased economy and efficiency in a federal agency faced with successive waves of fiscal restraint and expansion. …

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