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The first Conference was not based at Cambridge, but moved with some energy from location to location, including the War Office, the Royal Geographical Society and the Science Museum in London, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Admiralty Chart Establishment at Cricklewood (North-West London), the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington (West of London) and Ordnance Survey at Southampton. Although the main body of the Conference did not meet at Cambridge, some of the issues raised were later discussed in committee there.

Some legendary names were in attendance, including Colonel Sir Charles Close KBE CB CMG DSc FRS, who delivered a paper on the Geodesy of the British Isles and Brigadier Martin Hotine CMG CBE RE, who delivered a paper on surveying from air photographs.

Charles Close’s vision of extending the availability of Ordnance Survey mapping to commercial sale is now celebrated in the existence of the Charles Close Society for the study of Ordnance Survey maps. Captain Hotine is remembered in the Cambridge Conference Hotine Lecture for his work in realising the single homogeneous map of Great Britain and the consequential establishment of the national grid and the re-triangulation of the country.

The Conference was chaired by Colonel H St J L Winterbotham, Chief of the Geographical Section at the War Office, who went on to become Director General of Ordnance Survey from 1930–35.


Following the original intention to meet every three years, the Conference of Empire Survey Officers met again in July 1931. The report suggests a very packed programme, but does not specify where in London the Conference took place.

There were no less than five papers on the subject of aerial photography, and Sir Charles Close delivered a paper that was, perhaps, indicative of a view that would eventually make him famous – The Public Use of Large-scale Ordnance Maps.

Another paper discussed the use of a form of cadastral survey by the Egyptians in 3400 BC. The paper included a cadastral map that was found on a clay tablet in Babylonia, dating from the 21st century BC.

The resolutions of the Conference included one to meet every three years ‘It is about the time which intervenes between each successive leave’ but (paraphrasing) ‘not in August or September, as the school holidays occur then and provide the only opportunity, for many officers, to make the reacquaintance of their children’.

A further resolution was that future meetings should be held in a suitable place, not necessarily London, where it would be possible for wives to come and where it would be possible to have social functions in the evening for delegates and their wives. In the ensuing discussion, Cambridge emerged as the clear favourite. The suggestion of a summer camp was quickly despatched, it being considered that a summer camp, the delegate’s wives and the rain of an English summer would not go well together!


Despite resolving to meet in 1934, the next meeting was not held until 1935, and, despite the discussion of meeting in Cambridge, the Conference report suggests it was in London.

The 1935 Conference confirmed that meetings should be held every three years and it was agreed that the four-year period would be ‘too long between drinks’. There was also a resolution that the Conference should be extended from 10 days to a fortnight – subject to the approval of the Colonial Office.

Cambridge once again became the focus of attention for the venue – particularly because the delegates were so scattered around various accommodations in London, making opportunities for socialising and informal discussion outside the meeting very rare.


The Conference was assigned a new name: ‘The Conference of British Commonwealth Survey Officers’ and the venue returned to London again! 165 delegates attended, including several representatives from the USA.

Resolution number seven stipulated that alternate Conferences should be held away from London; the Conference of 1951 was planned to be held in South Africa.

Resolution number six pledged: ‘That this Conference considers the application of radar to surveying and mapping is of such importance… that every effort should be made to further such application and research relevant thereto’.


Despite resolution number 7 (raised during the 1947 Conference), which pledged that: ‘alternate Conferences should be held away from London’, the Conference of 1951 was held at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, London. Several delegates from the USA attended, one delegate from France; 165 in total. At this Conference the Standing Committee included three Brigadiers and a Rear-Admiral.

As usual, the Conference showed that the industry was up to speed with the latest technology, as demonstrated in a paper: The Helicopter and Topographical Surveys.

Among the resolutions passed was one urging that the report of the 1947 meeting be published as soon as possible.


In 1955 the Conference was renamed the Conference of Commonwealth Survey Officers. The report weighed a mighty 2 kg and confirmed that the conference was, at last, held at Cambridge in the Department of Geography.

France, Holland, Belgium and the USA provided non-commonwealth international representation and the programme appeared to be more concerned with the application of survey methods than in previous years. Rather than detailed descriptions of exciting new equipment, the agenda was a little more prosaic; including one paper entitled Mould Growth in Tropical Instruments.


210 delegates attended this Conference, including representatives from France, Belgium, Holland, the United States’ Air Force Guided Missile Branch and the United Nations. 22 companies exhibited instruments and equipment. The report grew to weigh 2.26 kg!

As ever, the agenda covered a wide range of topics, but perhaps topics concerning the climate were more challenged than usual, with papers on winter survey, two papers on mapping in cold climates and one on topographic survey in Antarctica. In another paper, a new word – computers – appeared in a title for the first time: The Use of Electronic Computers in Surveying and Mapping.

There was a markedly different agenda style for the Conference, which was held just one month before the Beatles released their million-selling single ‘She Loves You’. Each day was given a theme, with a number of papers delivered on the subject. The Conference report now stretched to two volumes and Switzerland was represented for the first time.

One paper, delivered by a delegate from the US Army Map Service, discussed the use of satellites in geodesy – just six years after the launch of Sputnik I, the world’s first orbiting satellite. A later proposal was for an earth-centred geocentric coordinate system, that would relate all the major datums of the world to the centre of mass.

A further revelation was a description of, and the potential use of, lasers in mapping – just three years after the principle of light amplification by the ‘stimulated emission of radiation’ was first discovered.


The ‘summer of love’ saw the eighth Conference, which was held at the Leys School in Cambridge, with 328 registered attendees. Not for the first time, hydrographic survey was predominant in the proceedings.

There was a discussion with regards to the Standing Committee that had been proposed at the 1951 Conference. It was proposed that one representative, each from four regions: North America and the Caribbean; Africa; Asia and Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, should meet at the two-year point between each Conference to help shape the coming Conference in the light of rapid changes in equipment and techniques. This was not adopted, but in some ways anticipated, as ‘CC The Exchange’ conferences were initiated in 2005.

Further motions expressed the hope that the ‘mekometer’ (developed over several years), would be made commercially available as soon as possible and that an education and training structure equivalent to the British National Certificate would be established for technicians in survey, cartography and photogrammetry.


On the day the Conference opened, President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert dollars to gold at a fixed value, effectively ending the Bretton Woods system.

The first afternoon was devoted to computing. The UK Directorate of Military Survey presented a paper on the installation of a new, large computer with no less than 64 kb of memory. It cost an enormous amount of money: £176 000 (which included the building to house it)!

Further evidence of the focus on the big picture was a paper presented by the Director of the US National Ocean Survey, regarding the ‘world-wide triangulation net’ created using satellite photography. In a review of the role of the Conference, SG Gamble, of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (Canada), considered its history and special characteristics and suggested a number of changes that might be implemented in the future.

The first proposition was in recognition of the service of Brigadier Martin Hotine CMG CBE RE, who died before the 1971 Conference. It was proposed that a keynote address, touching on the philosophy of surveying or survey administration should form an early part of all future Conferences – the session to be known as the ‘Hotine Lecture’.

Another proposal was that steps should be taken to limit future attendance to approximately 150, in view of the record attendance at the 1967 Conference which was widely believed to have spoiled the special atmosphere of the event.


On the day the Conference opened, President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert dollars to The Vietnam war ended and an American Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked with each other in orbit, marking the first such link-up between spacecraft from the two nations.

The 1975 all-ticket Conference was opened by Lord Shackleton of Burleigh (son of the Antarctic explorer), he was the first guest conference-opener who had actually spent some time working as a surveyor. The control of numbers proposed in 1971 had been implemented, causing some unrest over the difficulty in accessing the Conference – so presenting a paper was found to be a good way to get in! 318 did manage to attend, even if only part-time.

Doppler satellites received a good coverage in the Conference papers and there was a paper on another new development – desktop computers (or ‘programmable’ calculators, as they were initially known).


Politically, a very busy year: the fall of the Pol-Pot regime in Cambodia; the fall of the Shah of Iran, replaced by the Ayatolla Khomeini; the independence of St Lucia; Greenland acquires home rule; Ian Smith’s government in Rhodesia is replaced; the Marxist Sandanistas take control of Nicaragua and Saddam Hussein becomes the President of Iraq. In addition, the World Health Organisation declares the world free of naturally-occurring smallpox and a human-powered aircraft flies from England to France.

The Conference report lists no less than 384 full and part-time attendees. Coincidentally, perhaps, it makes no mention of the ticket-only admission used at the previous Conference which was possibly the reason for the record attendance. Surveyor representatives from seven non-commonwealth countries were included.

In the agenda, the role and responsibilities of national mapping organisations are considered, suggesting that a changing world had made their ‘raison d’etre’ less clear. Also, first mention is made of the effect of the Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) on mapping, charting and geodesy and a description was given of the ‘Australian laser depth sounding system’.


The year that Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft’s Word® are first released. The Conference agenda reflects an industry increasingly leaning towards the private sector and towards commercial and industrial market needs. A whole half-day was devoted to papers reflecting changing times, one of the papers being a resume of Ordnance Survey’s strategy for funding and operations, including the end of direct military involvement in its management.

A paper from Thailand, the first from a non-Commonwealth country, described their land titling project. Delegates from nine non-Commonwealth countries attended.

The attention of the delegates was drawn to the fact that the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS) would soon cease to be part of the Overseas Development Administration, to become the Overseas Directorate of the Ordnance Survey (ODOS). DOS had organised the Conference since 1951, and it could not be assumed that ODOS would be able to continue with the role. In the economic climate of the time, searching questions regarding funding, benefits and costs would need to be addressed. The delegates strongly and unanimously supported the continuation of the Conference and it was left to the Standing Committee to find appropriate ways of organising and funding it. This was clearly the most serious challenge the Conference had ever faced.


The Conference survived! Ordnance Survey had increased its role in the organisation of the Conference, now that the predicted merger with the DOS had taken place. The agenda was still a well-packed seven days worth, but new technology perhaps less dominant than in previous years.


The Conference agenda has a markedly different and more modern character, with the second morning’s subject being: ‘Money and Marketing Matters’.

In his opening address, Tony Baldry MP (the Department of the Environment Minister with special responsibility for Ordnance Survey), commented that; while just four years earlier it had been generally thought that computer-based systems were only suitable for developed countries, it was rare to go to an office anywhere and not see a variety of computer equipment in use.

The venue of the Conference was again considered, the President stating that there was some support for the location being moved to the Caribbean or Canada, but that the general wish was to remain at Cambridge.


A new Conference title: ‘The Cambridge Conference for National Mapping Organisations’ and a completely new remit to encompass national mapping organisations from around the world. 78 nations were represented.

The opening session included two keynote papers, the first of which demonstrated the need for consistent core datasets for the entire world, to enable assessment and comparison of opportunities for investment, environmental protection and sustainable development.

Another innovation was the arrangement of two workshop sessions to discuss, in a more compact and less formal body, key issues of the day.

The Hotine lecture covered some particularly interesting ground, examining the progression of the industry going from being government driven to market driven, from colonialism to internationalism, from military domination towards civilian management, from measurement science to information science, from maps and charts to land and geographic information systems and from labour intensive to capital intensive.


Another new name: ‘The Cambridge Conference’. At last formalising the name by which the Conference had actually been known for several years. Although the 1995 Conference had agreed that the format was suitable, the 1999 Conference said that the duration should be reduced to six days, with just five days of actual Conference sessions. 239 delegates attended from 68 countries and, perhaps for the first time, there was not a single mention of military rank in the list of delegates (although at least one senior Army officer was present).

A number of resolutions came out of the Conference, recognising the role of geospatial data in tackling poverty and assisting social, environmental, and economic issues. It was resolved that national mapping organisations would continue to work to improve the quality of geospatial data products and to advance their exploitation for the benefit of all people.


The welcome reception of first Conference of the new millennium was hosted by the Indian National School of Design, who provided an informative, educational and inspiring exhibition which highlighted the mapping of the subcontinant. The displays combined the latest technological developments with the Survey of India’s archives, to recreate the era and capture the excitement generated by the survey. The exhibition also tracked the effect of the acheivement on the existing world view and subsequent development of the sciences. The display was considered to be outstanding, complete with an enormous model elephant!

The theme of Cambridge Conference 2003 focussed on: National mapping – shaping the future, with the intention to encourage a bold vision for mapping information in the 21st century. Professor Martien Molenaar set the tone in his keynote address, which considered the role of geographic data as society and technology develops. Subsequent sessions ranged widely across contemporary issues, including the funding of national mapping organisations and global geospatial business.

Professor Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, was the Hotine lecture for the Conference. Gordon continued the forward-looking theme with a discussion of how GIS can help in the fight against poverty and disease.

Away from the formal proceedings, delegates looked forward to meeting old friends and making new contacts whilst enjoying the unique historic setting of St John’s College, Cambridge. After leaving Cambridge, delegates could choose to visit Ordnance Survey head office in Southampton, The Royal Geographical Society and a range of London-based public sector organisations that use mapping data as an integral part of their work.


At the beginning of July 2005, leading map makers from more than 40 countries charted a course to Southamptonfor the inaugural meeting of CC: The Exchange 2005 –  part of the continuing Cambridge Conference series.

Around 80 delegates spent three full days at the event, which was opened with a royal seal of approval by His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex.

The visitors included the heads of national mapping organisations and other expert players in the field of geographic information. The Conference provided an excellent networking opportunity to explore trends and challenges in both business and technology.

Lectures and workshop sessions covered diverse issues such as business risk, digital rights management, web services and the development of human resources.

In his welcome speech, the Earl told delegates: ‘This conference is about meeting the challenges you face today as map makers in this high tech, increasingly fast-paced world. The world may seem to be smaller in terms of communications but there is nothing like sitting down face to face.’

The Earl’s visit was in line with his broader international remit as President of the Commonwealth Games Federation and Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh Award International Council.

Among the news organisations covering CC: The Exchange were: Associated Press, Spanish National Radio, and Deutsche Welle (the German international news organisation). Magazines included GeoConnexion International, GiSProfessional and Geomatics World. Journalists also attended from Southampton’s main newspaper; the Southern Daily Echo and the local news and pictures agency; Solent News.


Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey, welcomed delegates to Cambridge Conference 2007 – the largest conference to date, with 220 delegates from 70 countries. After summarising the conference history, she introduced the conference theme: ‘Expanding horizons in a shrinking world’ and highlighted key points of progress from the Aide Memoire of the Cambridge Conference 2003, and from CC The Exchange in 2005.

The keynote speaker was Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News. Helen’s colleague, the internationally renowned BBC news reporter, Kate Adie OBE, opened the conference, while Professor Sir Martin Sweeting OBE, FRS, Director of the Surrey Space Centre, was the speaker at the Hotine lecture. Air Marshall Stuart Peach CBE, Chief of Defence Intelligence, gave the opening plenary speech.

The workshop sessions covered a wide range of vital issues including data sharing, licensing, risk management, education and partnering.

Outside the formal agenda, delegates enjoyed meeting with long-established contacts and making new acquaintances. There was a busy programme of social events and visits, which the delegates were encouraged to join.


Once again, Ordnance Survey hosted the conference and an increasing number of nations came together to meet at St John’s College, Cambridge. Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey, acknowledged that: ‘as national mapping and cadastral agencies, each of us has the significant responsibility to enhance the reputation of geographic information and to act as a catalyst for its innovative use, both in our own nations and across the world. The work that we do increasingly supports public administration, commerce, academia and leisure, delivering countless benefits to populations across the globe.’

The 2009 conference went straight to the heart of the global economic situation and addressed how mapping ­and the improvement of mapping management ­could contribute to solving its problems. Keynote speeches were presented by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency and Stuart Haynes OBE, Director of the Defence Geographic Centre. Vanessa also welcomed Željko Bačić, Director General of the State Geodetic Administration of Croatia, who discussed the role of mapping within countries going through transition; and Colin McDonald, Chief Executive of Land Information New Zealand, who helped to facilitate workshop sessions which looked at the impact of the economic downturn.

As always, there was the chance to meet and network with representatives from countries all around the world, each with different economic experiences to share. These opportunities were facilitated by the social events outside of the main conference schedule, and took place in the notable historic city of Winchester.


In 2011, St. John’s College Cambridge celebrated its 500th birthday and was therefore unable to host the Cambridge Conference. Ordnance Survey also had a lot to celebrate in 2011, as June 21st marked Ordnance Survey’s 220th anniversary and in January, Ordnance Survey employees moved into their brand-new head office in Southampton.

Following a lot of consideration and consultation with other director generals around the world, the decision was made to hold the 2011 Cambridge Conference at Ordnance Survey’s new head office.

Cambridge Conference had an excellent speaking programme with keynote speeches by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, the Government Information Advisor to the UK Government; Professor Paul Cheung and Aida Opoku-Mensah from the United Nations; former Cabinet Secretary Lord Wilson and Air Marshall Sir Stuart Peach CBE, Chief of Joint Operations.

As ever, there was the opportunity to meet and network with representatives from countries all around the world, each with different experiences to share. The social events took place in historic Winchester, Lord Montagu’s Beaulieu Palace, the Domus (which is nearly 500 years old) and the beautiful New Forest. On Wednesday, there was cricket match held between an Ordnance Survey team and an international team.


In 2013 the Cambridge Conference was hosted at Churchill College. It was held adjacent to the Third Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge. The two conferences were attended by a combined delegation of over 300 leaders, representing over 100 countries. Delegates were given the opportunity to network with international colleagues, listen and participate in numerous presentations and time to relax during the varied social programme.

The theme for the conference was Bringing Geographic Authority to Information. The excellent speaking programme was led by keynote speeches from Janet Williams QPM, Chair of Interpol’s Protection and Security International Expert’s Group who spoke about Working in an uncertain world and Paul Davies, the Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office who spoke on Forecasting in a changing world. Other keynotes came from Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Transport for London; Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director, UN Statistics Division; and Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, United Kingdom.

The 2013 Hotine Lecture was delivered by the geographical writer and broadcaster Nick Crane. Titled The Wonder of Maps, Nick explored the value of mapmaking in the modern world, drawing on the works of Brigadier Martin Hotine and Gerard Mercator, the 16th century globe-maker, engraver, cartographer and ‘inventor’ of the modern atlas. Nick also drew on his own experiences as a map-user, while undertaking long-distance journeys in various continents by foot, bicycle and horse.

To mark the close of the Cambridge Conference and to open the UN-GGIM Committee of Experts meeting a special Ministerial Session was held with Ministers from around the globe.


The 2017 Cambridge Conference took place in Oxford for the first time, hosted in Keble College.  The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, a city made famous by the 19th century poet Matthew Arnold as the “the city of dreaming spires”.  It is equally a leading global research centre for geography, artificial intelligence and automation.
The theme for the conference was Mapping Nations – The Next Decades.  Day 1 examined the changing global environment, Day 2 considered the changing geospatial landscape and Day 3 determined how mapping, geospatial and cadastral agencies needed to adapt to give our nations the mapping and services they need for the next decade.  Major challenges were identified, with both threat and opportunity evident, but in keeping with the thought-leading intent of these Conferences we collaboratively identified options for our future development.  Social events were held in the Natural History Museum, the Bodleian Library and Balliol College.
With speakers from all continents, the opening keynote set the scene with Professor Sir Mark Walport, the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, considering “The Inexorable Rise of the Machines”.  Talks by leading experts from academia, government and industry followed before 5 renowned international leaders gave their views on the next decades, closing 3 days of discussions and workshops. During the ‘hot wash-up’, the International Advisory Panel members were clear that Cambridge Conference is unique in giving geospatial agency leaders an opportunity to jointly consider their next steps, and must continue.  Nick Middleton, an award-winning geographer, writer, TV presenter and Oxford University lecturer, gave an entertaining Hotine Lecture on “Countries that Don’t Exist.  Perhaps this, as much as anything, reminded us of the importance of our work.

Start date: Wednesday, 22 April 2020  |  End date: Friday, 24 April 2020

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