Monthly Archives: January 2008

NHGIS…a National Treasure of Historical US GIS Data

One of the joys of working with GIS in the US is the tons of data that are available…unless of course you want to look into the past…that is until the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) came into being. The NHGIS is literally a treasure trove of GIS-ready aggregate census data and boundary files for the geography of the period 1790-2000.

This is huge.

Using the “Shape Finder” and “Data Finder” functions you are able to select and download for free, geographic areas (e.g., states, counties, census tracts) and summary data (e.g., demographic, social, economic, and housing statistics). Using the ArcMap “join” function brings boundaries and attributes together. (NOTE: It is important to understand what data and geographic areas are available by decade.)

Here are a couple of examples to get you thinking.

By grabbing the 1870 county boundary files and associated 1870 county population counts by gender, I was able to create a map using ArcView to depict a relatively close post Civil War sex ratio (ratio of males to females). Here, the display is focused on the eastern US. At the time of the 1870 Census, the national average sex ratio stood at 102.2 men for every 100 females (or 1.022). Looking into counties which were the source of troops fighting the war and areas ravaged by it, the general picture is there are more females than males. In this cursory view, it is difficult to discern the specifics of this striking geographic pattern but with over 600,000 (generally male) military deaths, the war certainly affected the demography of counties most involved. (Question: What do you think the sex ratio was like in western US counties in 1870? Download the data and see for yourself.)  

The 1910 Census saw the collection and release of the first census tract data for 8 cities: Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Immigration to New York City is legend with many waves of different nationalities. This map shows the Italian ancestry across the city’s five boroughs in 1910 after the massive 1901-1910 influx. While broadly distributed, the Italian population at this time was largest in the Bronx.

Sign up for free access to a wealth of GIS data and open a new door into the nation’s history.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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Placing History with AEJEE

There is a splendid new book available from ESRI Press: Placing History, by Anne Kelly Knowles. The book contains a “digital supplement” organized by Amy Hillier — documents and map layers. The map layers include projects for both ArcGIS and ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual-platform, lightweight GIS tool. (The latest version of AEJEE, 2.3.2, was releasedin December 2007 after the book went to press, so it’s slightly more recentthan the AEJEE installer in the book; the CD includes a link to the AEJEE download page.)

The chapters in the book are fascinating reading, as those who have read Knowles’ previous book Past Time, Past Place would expect. But it’s also delightful to view map layers for several chapters! It helps bring history front and center into the present!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Young Hereos for the Barron Prize

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes seeks nominations for its 2008 awards. The Barron Prize honors young people ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. Each year, ten national winners each receive $2,000 to support their service work or higher education. Half of each year’s winners are chosen for their work to protect the environment. Nomination deadline is April 30. For more information and to nominate, visit http://www.barronprize.org/

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Nominate Young Hereos for the Barron Prize

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes seeks nominations for its 2008 awards. The Barron Prize honors young people ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. Each year, ten national winners each receive $2,000 to support their service work or higher education. Half of each year’s winners are chosen for their work to protect the environment. Nomination deadline is April 30. For more information and to nominate, visit http://www.barronprize.org/

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GIS Journals and Magazines: ESRI, Part 1

In the early years of GIS, only a few journals existed for the GIS community.  All that has changed as GIS has expanded into so many sectors of society.   ESRI, publishing houses, professional societies, universities, and others publish a variety of journals and magazines, ranging from research to case studies to news.  Some are directed toward the entire GIS community, while others are targeted toward those using GIS in education, oil and gas, surveying, planning, natural resources, and in other fields.  The intent of these blog entries is to help you with these many choices.  Due to space constraints, I will dedicate this entry to a few ESRI publications that I believe are the most useful for educators.  Some are published quarterly, some periodically, and some monthly.  I will dedicate future entries to other ESRI publications and to the many fine journals produced by organizations outside ESRI.

GIS Educator is specifically created for educational professionals in primary and secondary schools, nonformal educational settings, higher education, libraries, and museums.  It features programs, educational offers, new software and tools, how to access spatial data, and case studies, some written by your colleagues around the world, who are successfully incorporating GIS tools and methods into their teaching and research.  Higher Education News and Higher Education Site License Administrators News are electronic only and focus on higher education programs, case studies, and administrative help.  ArcSchool Reader and ESRI Libraries and News focus on primary/secondary education and libraries/museums, respectively, with practical examples of how to implement GIS in a wide variety of educational settings.

To subscribe to any of these publications, simply access http://www.esri.com/subscribe and make your selections.  You will also find links on this page to the archives for each publication, which is helpful when you are searching for a back-issue article.  Some of these publications are digital only, but many are in both print and digital forms.  If you are outside the USA, you will need to request print newsletters and magazines from your local ESRI distributor. 

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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GITA's GPS loan program for middle and high school

GITA’s Location in Education is an educatinal program for middle- and high-school students. Teaches can use the kit for a two-week period, and we only ask that they pay shipping and handling. It’s a great way for students to start learning about GPS and GIS at an early age, and GITA has recently purchased more GPS units so we can send more kits to more schools.

The “Location in Education” kit consists of 12 GPS units, a “World in a Box” video, a geocaching book, and one set of operating instructions along with instructions on how to oerase any information you input. The kits have been sent to schools all over the country, and GITA hopes to continue to expand the program to get the word out about geospatial.

Teachers who are interested in the program are encourage to contact GITA at 303-337-0513, email “info@gita.org“.

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Instructions for AEJEE

ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE) is ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform, lightweight GIS tool. The latest version, 2.3.2, was released in December 2007.

Some folks have jumped headfirst into AEJEE and tried to figure out on their own how to use it. Like a cell phone, digital camera, or microwave, AEJEE has its own on-board instruction set. If you’re running AEJEE, go to the HELP menu and choose Help Contents. A 58-page tutorial in PDF form will appear. It walks you through all the key processes.

Even if you don’t have AEJEE installed, you can look at the help file, which is downloadable from the AEJEE intro page.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Teaching About Accuracy With GIS and GPS

In this blog we have discussed ways that GIS can help encourage students to always cast a critical eye on data—to know where it came from, who updated it, how, when, and why, its accuracy, scale, and more. GIS is useful in everyday decision-making and in the classroom, but just because maps are on the computer doesn’t mean they are “perfect.” Teaching with GIS can illustrate that the real world has to be sampled and re-shaped to fit it on a flat paper map or computer screen. Like GIS, GPS is an incredibly useful technology, but it too has its limits. I collected a GPS track on the train while en route to co-teach a GIS institute in Cambridge, England and mapped it in ArcGIS, below, in red. As the train neared the bridge overpass, it lost “sight” of the satellites, resulting in a zigzag hundreds of meters away, before resuming on the other side of the bridge.

GPS signals cannot travel through solid objects such as bridges, and you may also experience a loss of signal and hence positional accuracy in canyons, under heavy tree cover, and in high-rise neighborhoods. Most low end GPS receivers are accurate to within 2 to 5 meters on the ground, but that is only under the best open-sky conditions. Notice also that my GPS track along the railway line is offset. Near the window, I could only see a small portion of the sky, and hence, just a few GPS satellites, which reduced the accuracy of the resulting track. Notice also that my track taken while walking along the bridge after I got off the train is much more accurate. However, it’s not perfect—I was definitely walking on the sidewalk (in England, a “footpath”) and not down the middle of the road!

Spatial data brings benefit but also has limitations. Encouraging students to grapple with both of these characteristics of data is one of the best contributions that the use of GIS brings to teaching and learning.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Newest Version of ArcGIS Explorer Awaits You

Just before the holidays a brand new version of ArcGIS Explorer was launched. It’s called Build 440 and it’s ready for you to download and use.

This new release has lots of new features, enhancements, and fixes. The best way to learn about them is to check out the What’s New document as well as the most recent ArcGIS Explorer Blog entries (December 14, 2007 and forward). The ArcGIS Explorer team identifies “ArcIMS improvements, including the ability to access sub-layers, and the addition of new point symbols and the ability to add your own custom point symbols” at the top of their list of enhancements. While those really are major and there are many others, I also like some of the subtle modifications such as fewer clicks to adding ArcIMS and WMS services and the expansion of the ArcGIS Explorer Resource Center’s “Content” area. There, besides ready-made “Maps” and “Layers” to add to ArcGIS Explorer, you’ll also find the kick-off of two new areas focused on “Tasks” and “Results.” For instance, currently inside the “Results” area, there are four that are focused on various features and places in the United States.

I downloaded the US State Capitals and Facts NMF and dropped it into my “Results” folder inside My Documents > ArcGIS Explorer Documents. Opening the NMF and zooming to Austin, TX netted me a view of its location and (after clicking on the location point) information about the state from the USGS Science in Your Backyard site.

I discovered upon zooming in to the “capital” point that it was some blocks away from the “capitol” building. However, quick use of the Result Properties window allowed me to migrate the “result location” just above the dome. See if you can do it for your state capital and capitol.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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4-H GIS Grants

The 2008 ESRI GIS grant applications for 4-H (U.S.) are now available online at www.esri.com/4-H. The grant application period is Jan 1, 2008 – Feb 28, 2008.

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