For historical reasons, I'm trying to figure out when the term "geospatial" came into use? The earliest usages I can find are from around 1994, but I would be really surprised if it wasn't used earlier. Please share references, if you have them.

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    This Q needn't be community wiki. Geospatial is both technical and modern, and there is a reasonable expectation we could arrive at a definitive answer (though there may well be several iterations to arrive at the most definitive). It's not like trying to find the origins of the word beer ;-) Apr 23, 2013 at 19:27

4 Answers 4


The Google Books NGram dataset is a perfect way to answer this - it shows the frequency of words or phrases in the Google Books corpus (basically all text in all books, journals, magazines etc that Google have digitised) from 1800 until 2008).

The graph plotted here shows the first usage of geospatial in the corpus in 1974 to be exact, with a rapid increase in usage starting in 1992. geo-spatial has significantly less usage overall, but this started to rise in the early 1980s.

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    but GIS is common(ish) since 1800 - not sure what that means.
    – Ian Turton
    Apr 18, 2013 at 15:15
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    According to the Oxford English Dictionary (oed.com/view/Entry/… - paywalled), gis is also an "oath or exclamation", for example "By Gis!", derived from "a mincing pronunciation of Jesus or Jesu" and first seen in 1528.
    – robintw
    Apr 18, 2013 at 19:48
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    I tried also NGram, but I don't really trust the result. Google books dataset has a lot of errors, especially in the publication year data. If it could point me towards a specific reference that I could then manually review, then it would be more useful. Apr 19, 2013 at 6:42
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    @robguinness Good point. According to Google, in the book Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, the word "geospatial" occurs three times. The excerpted images in the link are convincing proof. However, also according to Google, this book was published in 1923. Those librarians of 90 years ago were amazingly prescient in their uses of modern concepts like "satellite," "website," and "information architectures" :-).
    – whuber
    Apr 23, 2013 at 20:01
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    I must confess that I sometimes use "ArcGIS" as an oath or exclamation Dec 18, 2014 at 5:42

The Oxford English Dictionary has as its earliest usage1 :

1970 Annals of the Association of American Geographers 60 217/2 Geospatial systems have been conceptualized as having two basic kinds of components: 1) Spatial structural components; and 2) spatial interaction components.

1 paywall, but note that a UK library membership is probably enough...

  • This seems like a pretty reliable source. Unless someone finds something specific from an earlier reference, I'm going to assume Oxford English Dictionary is correct. Apr 19, 2013 at 6:49
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    and for anyone who finds an earlier documented usage (just 'my teacher said it all the time', for example, is not enough), the OED is "always pleased to receive details of antedatings of words"
    – AakashM
    Apr 19, 2013 at 7:58
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    I obtained a copy of this 1970 article. After reading it, I don't get the impression that this is the first use of the word "geospatial" in the field of geography. The author goes on to write, "It has been pointed out that geographers generally consider three major subsystems within an overall geospatial system". There is a footnote to that sentence that references two earlier publications: E. N. Thomas and J. L. Schofer, "Towards the Development of a More Responsive Urban and Transportation System Models", Northwestern University, 1967. and... Apr 22, 2013 at 7:55
  • ...and E. A. Ackerman, "Where is a Research Frontier?" Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 53 (1963), pp. 409-10. I will try to obtain the Ackerman article, but I don't think it will be easy for me to obtain the first reference (there don't seem to be any copies online or here in Finland). Apr 22, 2013 at 7:57
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    I obtained Ackerman's 1963 article (referenced above), and I don't find the word "geospatial". Where he could have used "geospatial", he instead used "earth-spatial". So I would contend that the word "geospatial" was not in widespread use in 1963, at least among geographers. Apr 23, 2013 at 8:20

According to this Amazon book search, the first books published related to "geo-spatial" or "geospatial" were around 1991 (at least that are sold on Amazon...)

I also found this over at GIS Lounge, which was pretty interesting and informative about the history of GIS and geospatial technologies.

  • The question specifically asks for word "geospatial" but both links suggested by you are for GIS.
    – Chethan S.
    Apr 18, 2013 at 15:04
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    no. the amazon book search is specifically for the keyword geospatial, with the results showing geospatial in the book title or description. the second link is a brief history of gis and its relation to geospatial technologies.
    – Craig
    Apr 18, 2013 at 15:10
  • what you said is true. I just saw the word 'gis' in related searches in Amazon link.
    – Chethan S.
    Apr 18, 2013 at 15:54
  • All the publications I see from that link from the 1990s were actually published in Chinese, so those instances of "geo-spatial" are likely a more recent machine translation of the original Chinese publications. Oct 28, 2017 at 13:41

I've been in the business since 1976. I first heard the term from two people who claimed to have coined it in the 90s. Rationale was that they were looking for a word that emphasized the precision needed for geographic analysis. Geospatial was intended to convey a greater level of spatial precision within GIS and Geographic Analysis. The follow-on term, Geospatial-Intelligence made its way into the names of several national government organizations

  • Interesting. Can you share the names, or provide a reference? Oct 28, 2017 at 13:36

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