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From Quill Pens to GIS: The Career of a Geographer

Stewart Berry

Author: Stewart Berry

Any customer testimonial that begins with a description of using quill pens to create maps is one that I want to share! Many thanks to Susan Remer for writing the testimonial below that covers her career in mapping and GIS.

As a British geographer I was struck by Susan's inability to find a teaching position. Geography is widely taught and funded in the UK, but the situation is unfortunately vastly different in the United States. Despite longstanding efforts by the National Geographic Society and the American Geographical Society to expand geography education at the secondary- and university-levels respectively, geography remains a little-studied or even -understood discipline. At present it remains the only major academic field not to receive national education funding (URL).

Here is the testimonial in full:

“In the mid-1960s at Bowling Green State University, I was a Geography major hoping to teach at the secondary level. Part of the subject requirements were both basic and advanced Cartography done with quill pens, Leroy lettering sets, t-squares, parchment paper, compass, and India ink. Make a mistake and you were doing delicate and time-consuming corrections with an Exacto blade.

The materials changed a bit over those years with mylar film replacing parchment paper, and press-on lettering in various fonts made the Leroy lettering templates obsolete. Hand-drawn patterns and stippling were supplanted with a variety of patterned self-adhesive film for custom cutting using the Exacto blade. Changes and corrections were easier to do, but still highly time consuming.

Meanwhile the teaching job never materialized for me, but mapmaking jobs were available in Florida in the early 1970s, which is where I was living at the time. I was recruited to attend graduate school and draw maps for various Geography professors who were writing books at the University of Florida. Previously I was making city street maps for various banks and chambers of commerce who were welcoming new snowbirds.

Once out of grad school, there were still no teaching jobs, so I took a different path and went into health planning. I continued to make maps of various health data the old school way - this was about the time GIS was emerging in the early '80s. I knew I needed to be able to make maps in a more efficient manner, but the high cost and the difficulty in using the early GIS desktop offerings were prohibitive.

In 1995, while working at Miami Children's Hospital, I saw a review of GIS mapping software companies in a professional journal. Maptitude was a brand new GIS product from Caliper Corp., which had been in the GIS business since the early 1980s. High marks were given to Maptitude for quality, affordability and ease of use (and what a great name, too!). I was very excited at the prospect of being able to make custom maps of my data quickly and with the ability to change colors, patterns, fonts, everything that a health planner would need. Maptitude exceeded my expectations in both the product and the variety of support offered. If you know nothing about GIS and its power, and even if you do, the training is worth the money.

With each new update, Maptitude has gotten better and better over the years in maintaining its affordability and ease of use. Now, 50 years have passed since I first picked up pen and ink at the Bowling Green cartography lab. Since that time, I have used Maptitude exclusively in my professional health/hospital planning career at four hospitals and health systems in Florida and Michigan. It has been indispensable in my work. Mapping data oftentimes tells the story in a way other modes can't do.

I am now retired from my hospital planning career, but I am still a big fan of Maptitude and am looking for ways to use it in teaching my grandson about the world.

Thank you, Caliper – Keep up the great work!”

Thank you Susan!

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