Knowing where something happens can help us understand what happened when it happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Whether it is analyzing the spatial and temporal distribution of the COVID pandemic, understanding the loss of biodiversity or climate change, the path of a deadly tornado or hurricane, or better understanding food deserts, knowing something about where things happen is essential to how we understand and relate to our local environment and the world at large. Modern digital mapping technology has revolutionized how society analyzes and understands the spatial and temporal aspects of our physical and cultural environments.

Much of this textbook will focus on digital mapping technology called a geographic information system (GIS). GIS is information technology that can help us understand and relate to the world’s what, when, how, and why by answering where. Geographic information systems are about digital maps, but they are also about much more.

GIS is used to organize, analyze, visualize, and share data and information from different historical periods (temporal) and at various scales (spatial) of analysis. From climatologists trying to understand the causes and consequences of sea rise to epidemiologists locating ground zero of COVID-19 to archaeologists reconstructing ancient Rome to politicians and law enforcement trying to understand better how the political consultants are developing campaign strategies for the next presidential election, GIS is a potent tool.

More importantly, GIS is about the science of geography as a way to better learn and understand our world. As GIS technology evolves and society becomes ever more geospatially enabled, people are rediscovering the importance of geographic science and the power of maps.

To take full advantage of GIS and related geospatial technology, reflecting on how we think spatially and temporally about the world is helpful. In other words, by recognizing and increasing our geographical awareness about how we relate to our local environment and the world, we will benefit more from using and applying GIS. What are some specific examples of how GIS is used in different fields? What are some specific examples of how GIS is used in various fields?

Learning Objectives

  • Illustrate how we think geographically and spatially daily with mental maps to highlight the importance of asking geographic questions.
  • Explain how the fundamental concepts of scale, location, direction, distance, space, and navigation are relevant to geography and geographic information systems.
  • Define how a geographic information system is applied, its development, and its future.

Geospatial Technology Competency Model Alignment

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the conceptual foundations of geographic information systems (GIS), including the problem of representing change over time and the imprecision and uncertainty that characterizes all geographic information.

Source: Geospatial Technology Industry Competency Model

Chapter Sections

  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Geographic Science
  • 1.3 Geospatial Technology
  • 1.4 Geographic Concepts
  • 1.5 Map Fundamentals
  • 1.6 Cartographic Basics
  • 1.7 Future of Digital Mapping
  • 1.8 Review
  • 1.9 Attributions and References

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Geographic Information Systems and Cartography Copyright © 2022 by adamdastrup is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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