Videos & Films

Resources need not be limited to the stuffy world of books and web links. Movies and videos can also serve as great resources for information on topography, mapping, geology and the earth sciences.

YouTube has become a primary resource for videos related to mapping, surveying and topography. There’s hours (days?) of good stuff out there. Much of it is military or public service related, and a number are great old Army training movies we used to watch in basic training, You remember those days – the NCO’s would turn off the lights, pull the shades, start the movie and everyone would take a little nap before heading back out to the drill field or to the barracks for yet another GI party. I’ve put together a YouTube playlist that contains some of the more interesting and relevant videos and movies that relate to the topographic sciences.

However, not everything is on YouTube, or some of what is on YouTube deserves a better discussion to put it context. Let’s take a look at some specific videos and why they are of particular importance:

Aviation GIS. I work at the World’s Busiest Airport and we do a lot of pioneering work in the niche market known as Aviation GIS. In 2015 we were asked to do a presentation on our efforts at the ESRI International Users Conference in San Diego. This short video highlights a lot of the work we do at the airport to serve the entire enterprise.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. This is the only movie made for entertainment that deals with map making and surveying. It’s a great little story that has basis in fact. During WWI a party of topographers arrives in a small town in South Wales. They are working for the British Ordnance Survey and are collecting information to update the maps of the region. The locals are proud of their mountain, which they claim is the ‘first mountain in Wales’. The problem is, when the topographers make their height measurments they discover that the ‘mountain’ just isn’t high enough to meet the Ordnance Survey definition of a true mountain – it’s really just a tall hill. This triggers a flurry of activity as the locals conspire to keep the topographers in town while they surreptitiously add another 20 feet or so of dirt to the top of the hill so it really does qualify as a mountain. The movie stars Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald and Colm Meaney. A personal favorite of mine, and you can read my review here.

The Big Picture: Mapping Adventure. This is a part of the US Army’s ‘The Big Picture’ film series from the 1950’s & 60’s. This particular film focuses on the Inter-American Geodetic Survey (IAGS). The IAGS was formed in 1946 to provide survey, mapping and training support to Central and South American countries. The concept was simple and ingenious – we would teach military personnel from the participating countries the processes of making topographic maps and in return we would get copies of the maps, produced to our accuracy and layout standards. Most countries eagerly participated because it allowed them to accurately map their vast unmapped interiors with heavy assistance from the US. For more discussion on the IAGS read my earlier blog on the subject.

Longitude. In 1995 author Dava Sobel published a minor classic titled ‘Longitude‘, about the invention of the first marine chronometer in the 18th century and the struggles of it’s inventor, John Harrison, to get it accepted by the British government. The book quickly became a best seller and won numerous awards. Five years later a television series based on the book was produced for the A&E Channel. This is one of the all-too-rare instances where the movie is as good as the book. The video series builds on the book and brings a lot of the characters and situations to life. Highly recommended.

The Mapmaking Process. Here’s a film (broken into three parts) produced by the US Army in 1973 covering the mapmaking process. I’m sure it was intended as a recruiting film, or perhaps something to show new enlisted students at the Defense Mapping School. For an old Army topographer like myself it’s a fun walk down memory lane – I attended the Defense Mapping School as an Engineer officer in 1982 and was schooled in the exact same procedures shown in these videos (technology updates came slow in the topographic field). What’s really depressing is that I served with several of the soldiers shown in this film.

An Introduction To Photo Interpretation. This film was produced in 1955 by the US Geological Survey under the aegis of the Institute of Inter-American Affairs, US International Cooperation Administration. While the film makes no mention of the term ‘terrain analysis’, the processes shown in the film almost perfectly describe the skills our Army terrain analysis (geospatial engineer) Soldiers were taught from the late 1970’s right through the mid-late 1990s. While I’ve never seen this film outside of YouTube, it is good enough that it could have been used as an instructional film at the Defense Mapping School.

Surveying the Land. Part of a series of historical films put together in the mid-1980s by the Bureau of Land Management. This particular episode discusses the development of the rectangular survey system known a the Township & Range system. The film is quite brief, but well done and interesting. The Township & Range system was first employed in Ohio, and you can read more about it in one of my original blog posts.

2 thoughts on “Videos & Films

  1. Really enjoyed The Big Picture: Mapping Adventure. I was El Jefe de la Administracion for IAGS from 87 until it closed in 89 or 90. Then I transferred to the San Antonio office of the Hydrographic/Topographic Center and closed it up. True to the I`m Always Going Somewhere, I was able to take many TDY trips during my assignment. I went to Panama, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

    Dean Strong

    • Dean, thanks for your comment! Can you tell me where on Fort Clayton or Albrook AFS the IAGS office was located when you were there? By the time I got down there in ’93 all that was left was a DMA liasion office, instrument repair shop and small map depot on Albrook.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s