Land surveying was of great importance in the late 18th – early 19th century, partly for political reasons; enlightened governors had new maps of their territories drawn up based on measurements not just of distances, but angles as well. The Austrian government, for example, commissioned in 1788 the astronomers of the Brera astronomical observatory to draw up a new map of the Milan area. Mascheroni himself, “…in order to produce a supplement to the great map of Austrian Lombardy measured and constructed by the famous Brera astronomers…”, during the school holidays undertook a series of measurements of the land around Bergamo; his field notes are conserved in the Biblioteca Angelo Mai.

In the same historical period, the need to standardize units of measurement that varied from place to place led France in 1795 to adopt the decimal metric system, in which the fundamental unit of length is the metre, defined as one forty-millionth of the terrestrial meridian. French geographers conducted expeditions to try and define this unit of measurement as precisely as possible.

The decimal metric system was extended to all territories under French rule, after specific commissions that included representatives of the occupied areas had established rules to standardize the different units of measurement then in use in the various regions. Lorenzo Mascheroni was called to Paris as a representative of the Cisalpine Republic.

After the adoption in 1802 of the new General Plan for Public Education, the ex-Collegio Mariano, then the Liceo Dipartimentale, introduced the teaching of land surveying and architecture, with practical exercises. The 1804 physics laboratory inventory lists several instruments purchased “…to make drawings of the land and measure areas…”.