Tag Archives: History and GIS

Interpreting Our World: New book on 100 Revolutions in Geography

Looking for a new way to teach and learn about geography?  I have written a new book entitled Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography, described in this video.  This book demonstrates why geography matters in the modern-day world through its examination of 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography—which means, literally, “writing about the earth” or “describing the earth.”

Geography is not simply accounts of the lands of earth and their features; it’s about discovering everything there is to know about our planet. This book shows why geography is of critical importance to our world’s 21st-century inhabitants through an exploration of the past and present discoveries that have been made about the earth. It pinpoints 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography and the understanding of our world, including widely accepted maps of the ancient world, writings and discoveries of key thinkers and philosophers, key exploration events and findings during the Age of Discovery, the foundations of important geographic organizations, and new inventions in digital mapping today.

The book begins with a clear explanation of geography as a discipline, a framework, and a way of viewing the world, followed by coverage of each of the 100 discoveries and innovations that provides sufficient background and content for readers to understand each topic. Students will gain a clear sense of what is truly revolutionary about geography, perhaps challenging their preconceived notion of what geography actually is, and grasp how important discoveries revolutionized not only the past but the present day as well.

It is my hope that the book clearly provides readers with an understanding of why geography matters to our 21st-century world and an awareness of how geography affects our everyday lives and is key to wise decision making. I have also ensured that the book addresses and explains key themes of geography, including scale, physical processes, cultural processes, patterns, relationships, models, and trends.  The book also integrates time, space, and place in geography, documenting how it is not only the study of spatial patterns, but also the fact that many discoveries in geography came about because of the particular time and place in which the discoverers lived.

The book was published by ABC-CLIO and is available from the publisher and via Amazon.

And yes, the book includes plenty about geotechnologies that we discuss in this blog, including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, web mapping, UAVs, and other technologies from astrolabes and compasses to theodolites and the Internet of Things.

Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography

Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography.

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Beyond Mapping: Compilation of 25 Years of Essays and Activities about GIS

The Beyond Mapping Compilation Series of the 25-year run of the “Beyond Mapping” column by Dr. Joseph K. Berry in GeoWorld is finally “soup.”  The nearly 1000 pages and more than 750 figures in the Series provide a comprehensive and longitudinal perspective of the underlying concepts, considerations, issues and evolutionary development of modern geotechnology, including remote sensing, GIS, and GPS.

Beyond Mapping Compilation

Beyond Mapping: Compilation of Essays and Activities in Geotechnologies.

The Series is organized into four online books (with hard copy options), each containing an Introduction, Ten Topics, Epilogue, and Further Readings with links to online support materials including additional online readings, color graphics files, instructor materials, and software for “hands-on” exercises that are cross-referenced to the topics.

Book IV — GIS Modeling: Applying Map Analysis Tools and Techniques (columns from 2007 to 2014).  This compilation extends earlier discussions of map analysis concepts, procedures, approaches, applications and issues affecting contemporary relevance and future potential.

Book III — Map Analysis: Understanding Spatial Patterns and Relationships (columns from 1996 to 2007).  This compilation develops a structured view of the important concepts, considerations and procedures involved in grid-based map analysis.

Book II — Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS (columns from 1993 to 1996).  This compilation encourages the reader to extend the historic role of maps telling us “Where is what?” to “So what?”

Book I — Beyond Mapping: Concepts, Algorithms and Issues in GIS (columns from 1989 to 1993).  This compilation describes an emerging technology that goes beyond traditional mapping and spatial database management to new concepts and procedures for modeling the complex interrelations among spatial data of all kinds.

The resource is available here, and permission to use portions of the Beyond Mapping Compilation Series collection of columns for educational and non-commercial purposes is granted (and encouraged).   Navigation within this tsunami of information is aided by five separate organizational listings of the individual Beyond Mapping columns, including a Chronological Listing of the nearly 300 individual Beyond Mapping columns (.html and .pdf), an Application Listing that organizes the columns by application areas (.html and .pdf), an Operations Listing that organizes the columns by operational topic/theme discussed (.html and .pdf), an Interactive Listing that can be searched/sorted by any word or phrase, topic, theme and application area (Word .doc), and a soon-to-be-published Combined Index of keywords and phrases covering all four books (.html; in progress; planned for Fall 2014).

–Joseph K. Berry

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Using Local Live GIS Portals in Education

Many organizations are putting their information on a smart map–by using ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Server technologies–to make their operations more efficient,   The portal from Keith County, Nebraska is one of my favorites.   You, as the educator, can make use of local live GIS web mapping portals like this to teach a wide variety of concepts and skills.  I describe how to use it in further detail in this video.

For example, with the Keith County Nebraska portal, created by the GIS professionals at GIS Workshop Inc., you can teach about how the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was implemented to divide up the land into parcels, sections, townships, and ranges, and how it affects our lives to the present day.  Examine and measure the extent and location of historical wildfires.  Teach about latitude and longitude, center pivot irrigation and other land use, image characteristics (determine the time of day and time of year that the image was taken), and study changes from nature (river meanders) and from humans (urbanization and agriculture) over time by comparing historical to current imagery.  Examine housing types type using the ground photographs on the site with the property values and age of construction to illustrate how towns grew and changed.

Using Local GIS Portals in Education:  Keith County, Nebraska

How could you use this web mapping portal in education?  What other local GIS maps  have you found useful? I invite you to share your discoveries with the community.

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East Dakota, West Dakota

East Dakota and West Dakota

East Dakota and West Dakota

GIS is often used to help us understand the world as it is, or was in the past, or model what it could be like in the future. But it can also be used to explore what could have been. Take the case of North Dakota and South Dakota. These two states were carved out of the Dakota Territory in 1889.  President Harrison did not want to show favoritism when he signed the documents in terms of which state was admitted first, so they are listed alphabetically, with North Dakota listed as the 39th state and South Dakota listed as the 40th state.  In many ways, the manner in which the two states were divided, by an east-west line near the 46th Parallel, made sense. Yet what if the territory had not been divided into North Dakota and South Dakota yet as East Dakota and West Dakota?

Several geographers over the years have speculated about the physical and cultural ‘divide’ that persists to this day.  Many residents of the two states use  the term “East River” to refer to lands east of the Missouri River, and “West River” to refer to lands west of the Missouri River. To me, this is the perfect lesson whose value is enhanced with the use of GIS, and specifically, the creation of data within ArcGIS desktop and the serving and sharing of that data on ArcGIS Online.

Using ArcGIS desktop, I created my two states using county lines that followed the Missouri River.   What to do about the Bismarck?  I left Mandan, on the west bank of the Missouri, in WD, in part because when one departs Bismarck on I-94, it really does feel like one is entering the “west”.  Northwest of Bismarck, where the river turns west, I included the counties in northwestern North Dakota as part of West Dakota.  The reason is that I considered that they have more physical and cultural characteristics in common with the west than the east. I highly enjoyed my next task:  Selecting my two capital cities: Rapid City, “WD” and Sioux Falls, “ED”.  I considered Fargo for the ED capital but settled on Sioux Falls for several reasons.  Thus, Sioux Falls, ED is like Cheyenne, WY: Tucked into the corner of a vast territory. After my work in ArcGIS desktop, I shared my states on ArcGIS Online so others can use it as part of an educational lesson.

East Dakota has 79 counties. Its population rose from 637,720 in 1900 to 979,147 in 1950 to 1,119,642 by 2010. West Dakota has 40 counties. Only 65,604 lived there in  1900, in large part the miners who were still combing the Black Hills) but by 1950 it still only contained 289,571, and in 2010, 367,229 lived there. Thus, my East and West states are more lopsided in population than are the north and south states. Interestingly, over the past few years, my West Dakota is growing more rapidly than East Dakota with the expansion of the energy sector near Williston.

This activity, anchored squarely in the “what if”, helps students think spatially about physical geography, cultural geography, and history.

What sorts of “what if” scenarios can you create with a GIS?

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Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

“The illiterate of the 21st century,” wrote Alvin Toffler, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Toffler’s words seem particularly appropriate to the GIS profession.  In 1983, I was among the last of students who for over 10 years were using the SYMAP program to create 3D mesh terrain surfaces.  My colleagues and I at the US Census Bureau used GIS to develop the TIGER system during the late 1980s.  I started using ArcInfo in 1989 at version 4 at the USGS.  Despite the huge changes that occurred in GIS at that time, I firmly believe that I have seen more change in the past 3 years than I did for the previous 30 years.  The open data movement, crowdsourcing, cloud computing, attention to spatial thinking, mobile apps, and SDKs are among the forces that are modifying huge portions of our profession, from the technology to the number and variety of people in it.

Changes in GIS and society are having an enormous impact on GIS education:  What must we teach to help learners update their current skills and prepare them for the future?  How must we as GIS educators most effectively educate ourselves?  To think about it as Toeffler might, think about all that you have learned, unlearned, and relearned in GIS over the years.  (I confess that I am still wondering about Toeffler’s “unlearning” process.  Do we really “unlearn” or do we just forget some of the details of what we no longer need to know?)   I remember the time I invested in learning how to download, format, and use SDTS-formatted spatial data, and then creating a 25 page document to help others do the same.  Is that document still needed?  Do most GIS folks today even know what SDTS is?  I had to learn how to use that type of data, and then relearn how to use spatial data when the formats and the software changed.  Today, with the coupling of desktop and web-based GIS, software updates no longer occur annually, but at least quarterly if not more often.  You cannot effectively use all of the ArcGIS Online resources if your version of ArcGIS for Desktop is a few versions behind.  New data, apps, and other resources appear daily.  GIS seems to me to be the perfect example of why lifelong learning is essential.

Furthermore, something common to every GIS professional is the experience of having difficulty with getting a task in GIS to work, modifying it, trying it again, and assessing the results.   I recently had difficulty matching an ArcGIS Online basemap with a set of data, because I had guessed incorrectly at the projection that the vector data was in.  While these experiences can be frustrating, we tend to more clearly remember their details than when our problem solving workflow is smooth and easy.  In short, the difficulties we experience in learning and relearning actually help us in the learning process.

I see Toffler’s point but I also think that reading and writing are important 21st Century skills, and are more critical now than ever before.  In my role on the Esri education team, I spend more time reading, writing, and communicating than I do on other tasks.   Yet even the bulk of time I spend reading, writing, and communicating is with the objective of learning and relearning, and teaching others.

How does GIS require and foster lifelong learning?  How can you model lifelong learning with GIS with your students?

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Election, ArcGIS Online, History and GIS, webmapping, curriculum, ArcLessons

I have created a data set containing electoral history for the past 56 years in ArcGIS Online, so you and your students can interact with it, teach with it, and explore patterns. To accompany the data set, I wrote a lesson entitled, “Which states went for which candidate? Elections” is in the ArcLessons library.

What is the difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote? What influences voting patterns at present and what influenced the patterns in the past? Why do electoral votes sometimes exhibit a regional or national pattern and sometimes exhibit no pattern? After examining the maps dating back to 1956, which election years would you say were the closest in terms of the electoral vote, and which were the most one-sided? Which states voted consistently Republican, or Democratic, in the past? When have third-party candidates been a factor? When did the candidate lose his “home state?” Which states change back and forth in terms of political party over time, and do these correspond to what are referred to as “swing states”? How does population distribution influence the electoral vote and where candidates spend their time and money?

These questions and many more can be effectively analyzed by using the above maps and lesson. ArcGIS Online provides an excellent platform for learning about issues, patterns, and phenomena. Because elections data in the USA are tied to administrative boundaries, elections maps can be easily created. Examining election data in ArcGIS Online allows the data to be effectively and easily used by educators, students, and others, anywhere around the world.

Another map and data set containing electoral votes by state for the upcoming election, along with demographic information and much more, was compiled by my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick, and makes an excellent accompanying data set. These data sets can be used with an accompanying blog post describing what is there and how to use it.

It is my hope that these data sets and lessons will be helpful in teaching and learning in these next few weeks, and beyond.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Reflections on Terraserver and the Evolution of Data for GIS

Back in 1998, I and my colleagues were thrilled with the arrival of Terraserver. While maps and images for use in GIS on the web today are commonplace, back then it was revolutionary. Suddenly, thanks to an agreement between the USGS and Microsoft, the GIS community had access to USGS topographic maps and aerial photographs down to 1 meter spatial resolution for the entire USA. Two additional features made this service extra special. First, these images were georeferenced, meaning that they could be easily used within a GIS environment. Second, these images were online: No CD-ROMs or other physical media were required! After downloading the maps and aerials for our area of interest, we could read these maps and images into our ArcInfo or ArcView GIS software. True, the header files often needed to be edited first, but this resource gave us a huge leap forward because we had terabytes of data at our fingertips via http://www.terraserver-usa.com, later becoming http://msrmaps.com. Even better was when some enterprising folks at Esri wrote programs to automatically stream these images to ArcGIS.

Now, 14 years later, Terraserver was recently retired. As the National Atlas recently wrote, “We note its passing and salute all those who developed the service. Many people were involved in this groundbreaking effort. Still, there were three individuals who largely provided the vision and hard work that resulted in this remarkable service: Tom Barclay (Microsoft), Beth Duff (USGS, deceased), and Hedy Rossmeissl (USGS, retired). The National Atlas switched over to services provided by Esri so that Atlas users can continue to link from our maps to large-scale topo maps and aerial views. This takes us full circle. The National Atlas Map Maker was the first on-line, interactive mapper offered by the Federal government. It was partially developed under a joint research effort by the USGS and ESRI
in 1997.”

A plethora of base maps, topographic maps, satellite images, and aerial photographs are now available to the GIS user and the general public such as via ArcGIS Online. Times have changed but the need for good base data lives on. While I don’t long for those days of tinkering with header files, I salute the early pioneers who made it all happen, and look forward to the future. The evolution of GIS data, and discussion about data sources, quality, and related issues are detailed and blogged weekly about in the book that Jill Clark and I wrote, entitled The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.

I and my colleagues frequently need old aerials for land use change studies, however, and therefore, I wish Terraserver had remained online. Why couldn’t it have done so? What are now the best sources for old aerial photographs?

- Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, Esri

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Fun With GIS 117: The Future of the Past

As a kid, history baffled me. I floundered in the whirlpool of names, dates, and variably detailed accounts. I saw no pattern, no threads of organization. It was not until college, when I studied “regions” in geography, that the maelstrom of history began to stratify into patterns.

Today’s students have even more chance for confusion. The past grows ever more detailed, more open to cataloguing and endless shuffling. Fortunately, history lends itself to a geographic view, and ArcGIS Online makes it easy for educators and students alike to build their own view of yesteryear, demonstrating that the past can be re-organized infinitely.

Had I a time turner and the chance to re-do my history classes from grades 5, 7, and 11, I would want to bring ArcGIS Online. Not all of history has been converted into databases organized for geographic analysis, though some collections exist. Therefore, students can build their own, constructing and presenting their views, engaging deeply in the past. Even building simple catalogues of events or people tied to places, exposed over time, can help students fathom the past.

We are well into the sesquicentennial of the US Civil War, echoes of which linger even today. Students can view a small collection of data about battles, as one example of organization. An experienced user might take the liberty of revising the popup, or the classification and symbolization. What additional approaches or data might also make sense, exposing alternative views into the past?

John McHale once wrote a powerful little “poem” about time:

      The future of the past is in the future.


      The future of the present is in the past.


    The future of the future is in the present.

He meant that we constantly redefine what we think of the past, and our actions back then influenced the prospects we have today, and the outlook for tomorrow is based on what we do today.

Helping students of today become thoughtful leaders of tomorrow requires that they fathom the conditions, ideas, and decisions of the past. This takes more than memorization. It calls for exploring, grappling, analyzing, and integrating. ArcGIS Online is a powerful tool for encouraging such wrestling with time and space.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Titanic's Geography & Classes

We observe the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic by map-enabling its passenger list.

This latest story map from Esri adds a different dimension to the Titanic, a more personal geographic picture. Explore the levels of loss as you step from 1st class to 3rd class.

Discover the Titanic story map here.

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Bicentennial of the New Madrid Earthquakes: Seismic Calamity along the Mississippi

On December 16, 1811 a violent earthquake shattered a winter night along the Mississippi River Valley in an area of present-day northeast Arkansas. While the region was sparsely settled at the time, the local European and Native American inhabitants were being introduced to what would only be the beginning of a nightmarish winter framed by the mid-December occurrence, followed by another main event in late January, and an even more fierce temblor in early February centered outside the village of New Madrid in the Bootheel of present-day Missouri. The community was effectively destroyed, while in St. Louis, over 150 miles upriver, houses were severely damaged with chimneys crashing down. All of the principal shocks were felt far to the east with amazing reports coming from cities as far away as Boston and Toronto. In between and into the spring, numerous aftershocks were triggered and felt. Together, these were the largest earthquakes to have occurred since European settlement east of the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada.

I grew up near this region and have experienced first-hand what can happen in this seismically active area. A few years ago, I created a blog series and a map project using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop to examine some aspects of the region. My work then was triggered by a sizeable event in the spring of 2008 in southern Illinois. Today’s blog post draws a bit from that series but its main purpose is to highlight a new map I’ve been building using ArcGIS Explorer Online, a growing array of map services found in ArcGIS Online, and some CSV files I crafted and added to my map. Not surprising, the map is focused on the Bicentennial of the New Madrid Earthquakes.

Rather than describe the specifics of what the map contains, I have instead added that information as “metadata” and discussion at the map’s storage location in ArcGIS Online, as well as links to some USGS resources. Here’s a mini-URL that you can share, www.esriurl.com/NewMadrid. Once you are at the site, open the map in either the default option, Explorer Online, or the ArcGIS.com mapviewer. Also, rather than take you on a guided tour, here instead are a couple of screenshots of what you’ll discover.

Historical earthquakes and recent events

Historical earthquakes and nearby populated places

Please feel free to augment what I have done and save your own version of the map by logging in with your Esri Global Account, doing a “save as,” and share the new map. If you do craft your version, be sure to add your own description and other information for other users.

Also, remember the New Madrid Seismic Zone and similar zones in the Central US are active. Be sure to examine current population densities in these areas to begin to understand the human risk in a region not immediately recognized as a hazardous area.

Lastly, stay tuned for an Esri Map Story on this topic later this week.

- George Dailey, Co-Manager, Esri Education Program Manager

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