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Introducing Geographic Information Systems with ArcGIS: A Workbook Approach to Learning GIS, 3rd Edition by Michael D. Kennedy

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Afterword: From Systems to Science

Michael F. Goodchild1

In the Preface, Michael Kennedy listed three objectives for this book, the last of which was to provide a “basis for the reader to go on to the advanced study of GIS or to the study of the newly emerging field of GIScience, which might be described as the scientific examination of the technology of GIS and the fundamental questions raised by GIS.” This idea of a “science behind the systems” goes back to the early 1990s. The GIS software industry was flourishing, courses were being instituted in universities, and GIS was being adopted as an essential tool in a wide range of applications. Nevertheless several prominent academic geographers began asking awkward questions. If GIS was simply a tool, then why was so much attention being devoted to it? After all, universities didn’t feel the need to teach courses in word processing or spreadsheets. GIS was clearly useful to powerful interests, but what was it doing for the poor and the marginalized? Wasn’t GIS simply “nonintellectual expertise,” a bag of tricks?

By the middle of the decade, a consensus began to emerge that there was indeed “more to it,” that the use of GIS raised some very interesting and fundamental questions, and that there were important research issues to be resolved if the design of GIS was to be improved in the next generation. In addition to training in the latest version of GIS software, a course in GIS ought to be an education in some very basic principles ...

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