Peter Fisher, a Leading Figure in the Development of GIS, Has Died


Alumni Richard Middleton (PhD 2006), now a Research Scientist in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, recently wrote to say:

Ooooh no! Just found out that my Master’s Mentor, Peter Fisher, has died, aged 59. The University of Leicester tribute describes him thus: “He was fun, rude, honest and loving – a great person to have as a mentor, a colleague and a friend.” For reference, Pete was sometimes known as the “Michael Goodchild of Britain.” (OK, so you have to understand that Michael Goodchild is one of the few most famous geographers in the USA to be impressed by that comparison.) (Oh, and the comparison is a little ironic, perhaps weak, since Goodchild himself is British and can thus has a very strong claim to being the actual “British Michael Goodchild.”)

Fisher’s obituary in the online Times Higher Education (“Peter Fisher, 1955-2014,” written by Matthew Reisz and posted July 10, 2014) states: “A leading figure in the development of geographical information science has died. Peter Fisher was born in London on 12 January 1955 and spent much of his youth in Hampshire and Wiltshire. He studied environmental sciences at Lancaster University, graduating in 1977, moved to the University of Reading for an MSc and completed a PhD on “Plateau gravels of the western part of the London Basin” at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University) in 1982.

After some temporary positions, Professor Fisher became a lecturer in geography at Kingston in 1983. This was followed in 1987 by several years at Kent State University in Ohio, where he rose to the rank of associate professor. Returning to the UK in 1991, he joined the University of Leicester as a lecturer and was awarded a personal chair in geographical information in 1998. Although he transferred to City University London as a research professor in 2005, he came back to Leicester three years later.

Passionate about maps of every kind, whether traditional or high-tech, paper or digital, two- or three-dimensional, Professor Fisher was unsparing in his criticisms of those that were inaccurate or obscure. Much of his research focused on uncertainty. This arose out of work on expert systems and artificial intelligence that sought to automate human processes in the identification and mapping of landscape features. What soon emerged was that the kinds of strict rules that computers rely on for automated mapping are not really appropriate to the nuanced judgements that people make. To get around these difficulties, Professor Fisher used a branch of mathematics known as fuzzy sets as a way of capturing and describing landscape features that can be classified in different ways depending on other factors.

Such interests fed into the emerging discipline of geographical information science, which draws on the fields of computational and automated cartography. Professor Fisher served as editor of the International Journal of Geographical Information Science (later Science) from 1998 to 2007, the very time when GIS was establishing its credentials within the wider arena of information sciences. He also worked on more political topics such as the impact of closed-circuit television and Global Positioning Systems on human rights.

An enthusiastic teacher, Professor Fisher insisted on giving the large first-year introductory classes on GIS. He was also a committed supporter of younger academics, developing an extended professional family with his wife Jill and often opening his house – sometimes known as Fisher Towers – to visiting researchers. He died on 20 May and is survived by Jill and their three children.

Image 1 for article titled "Peter Fisher, a Leading Figure in the Development of GIS, Has Died"
From 1998 to 2007, Fisher served as editor of the International Journal of Geographical Information Science. He edited six books: Innovations in GIS 2 (1995), Virtual Reality in Geography (2002, with David Unwin), Spatial Data Quality (2002, with John Shi and Michael Goodchild), Developments in Spatial Data Handling (2004), Re-Presenting GIS (2005, with David Unwin), and Classics from IJGIS (2007). He also published over 80 papers in refereed journals, as well as nearly 50 book chapters (from the University of Leicester / Departments / Geography web site)

Image 2 for article titled "Peter Fisher, a Leading Figure in the Development of GIS, Has Died"
P. F. Fisher and D. J. Unwin (2005). Re-presenting GIS. Chichester, England: John Wiley and Sons.

Image 3 for article titled "Peter Fisher, a Leading Figure in the Development of GIS, Has Died"
Richard Middleton and his wife Erin (PhD 2007) in the Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, Wuhan, China. Erin was a Postdoctoral Researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but says she is now “staying home, looking after the three monsters (way more stressful than working)”