Stan Openshaw

Stan Openshaw (born 10 August 1946) is a retired British geographer. His last post was professor of human geography based in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. After eighteen years at Newcastle University, including three years as professor of quantitative geography, he moved to work in Leeds in 1992. Stan was a researcher in computer-based geography and his work aimed to automate aspects of geographical research and reduce subjectivity in geographical analyses. He worked on geographical information systems, analysis technology and models. He debated the direction geography should take putting forward a view that the subject needed an applied and scientific edge that harnessed the growing power of computers to make positive impacts to help us avoid and mitigate risk and cope better with disasters.

In 1992 he set up the Centre for Computational Geography (CCG)[1] as an inter-disciplinary unit at the University of Leeds, an organisation dedicated to bringing computers to bear on complex social and physical problems. Stan directed the CCG for seven years until suffering a severely disabling stroke in 1999 after which he was retired.[2]

Stan became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Chartered Statistician in 1993, a Fellow of the Institute of Statisticians in 1983 and was a Member of the British Computer Society from 1983.

In 2012 at the GISRUK conference in Lancaster a special session was arranged to celebrate his work and geographical career.[3]

Since his major, disabling stroke in 1999 Stan has struggled to communicate verbally and get around.



Stan's "Southern – East Lothian" B.A. Honours Geography Thesis has six chapters describing the physical and socio-economic geography of the region in the south east of Scotland. It contains tables of data, maps, aerial and ground level photographs, diagrams, statistical analysis, considerable description and details of two surveys (one about tourism which Stan aimed at tourists in Dunbar, and another about agriculture which Stan aimed at farmers). It may be that there is more than one copy of this thesis produced in 1968 and submitted to Newcastle University, but it would not be surprising for Stan to have kept a copy. A copy is stored with other artefacts of Stan's in a collection called "The Stan Openshaw Collection"[4] the physical manifestation of which resides for the time being at the University of Leeds.

Stan's "Processes in urban morphology with special reference to South Shields" PhD Thesis is archived at the British Library as microfilm no. : D10191/74. The thesis submitted to Newcastle University was completed in December 1973. It was compiled over several years (and for at least the latter part) whilst Stan worked in the Planning Department at Durham County Council. Stan wrote an abstract of the thesis and keeps it with his copy of the work. The abstract has now been reproduced on-line on his CCG PhD Web Page.[5]

Stan's research career blossomed in the Department of Town and Country Planning at Newcastle University, where, during the 1970s he worked on zone design methodology, for regional based administration, and for the analysis of socio-economic data in geographical and planning contexts. During the same period he developed a way to estimate death or kill rates of various nuclear bombing strategies evolving computerised techniques for identifying locations with the highest concentration of something. In the 1980s he pioneered the use of multimedia geographical information systems by spearheading the BBC Domesday Project.

Stan strove to remove human bias from the scientific process and was a strong believer in human-competitive machine intelligence. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s he worked to develop automated geographical analysis tools and "geographical explanation machines", which aimed to assist human researchers in the formation of hypotheses about the causes of geographical clusters and patterns in data. Stan introduced genetic programming to geography and demonstrated the predictive capabilities of artificial intelligence techniques and the modelling and inference capabilities of fuzzy logic. Perhaps his best known contributions, however, were to the field of geodemographics and location modelling, working on the classification of groups of people and the development of spatial interaction model technology for analysing networks of demand and supply.

In 1996, as the World Wide Web began to blossom, Stan encouraged a growing global community of computational geographers to meet for a first international GeoComputation conference which was hosted at the University of Leeds in 1997. The event was a great success and initialised a series of international conferences that is still on-going (see the GeoComputation Conference Series Home Page for details).


  • Openshaw, S., Abrahart, R.J. (2000) Geocomputation
  • Openshaw, S., Turton, I. (2000) High performance computing and the art of parallel programming: An introduction for |-
  • Stillwell, J.C.H, Geertman S., Openshaw, S. (1999) Geographical information and planning
  • Openshaw, S., Openshaw, C. (1997) Artificial intelligence in geography
  • Openshaw, S. (1995) Census users' handbook
  • Openshaw, S., Carver, S., Fernie J. (1989) Britain's nuclear waste: siting and safety
  • Openshaw, S. (1986) Nuclear power: siting and safety
  • Openshaw, S., Steadman, P., Greene, O. (1983) Doomsday: Britain after nuclear attack
  • Openshaw, S. (1978) Doomsday: Britain after nuclear attack

PhD Students

Name of Student Year of Completion Thesis Title University Affiliation
James Macgill 2001 Applications of Artificial Life Technologies to Geography School of Geography, University of Leeds
Young-Hoon Kim


2000 Intelligent location optimisations (ILOs) in GIS environments School of Geography, University of Leeds
Linda See 1999 Fuzzy Logic Applications in Geography School of Geography, University of Leeds
Gary Diplock 1996 The Application of Evolutionary Computing Techniques to Spatial Interaction Modelling School of Geography, University of Leeds
Danny Dorling 1991 The Visualization of Spatial Structure[7] Department of Geography, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Chris Brunsdon 1990 Spatial Analysis Techniques Applied to Local Crime Patterns Department of Geography, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Yannis Veneris 1985 The Informational Revolution, Cybernetics and Urban Modelling School of Architectural Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Greece


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