I wouldn’t call myself a gifted geographer. I can’t name every state or national capital, identify every country on a map, or give directions from the Brandeis campus with any consistent accuracy. Nonetheless, for whatever reason (perhaps stir-craziness and fantasizing about travel while stuck at home during the pandemic?) I have been on a bit of a cartography binge. Exploring potential travel or post-graduation relocation destinations on Google maps has been a favorite pastime (or procrastination technique); and, like many people, I’ve also relied on interactive maps to keep up with new developments related to Covid-19. This interest spurred my decision to take Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) last semester, and Applied GIS this semester. Through these courses, I’ve gotten a better sense of the landscape of GIS as a tool and professional area. I thought I’d use this blog post to share some map-related items of interest, and to encourage prospective students to consider pursuing GIS courses at Heller.
So, in no particular order, here a few interesting mapping examples:
ESRI, the software company which makes the GIS software used in Heller classes, offers the online StoryMap platform as a way for researchers to create visual narrative blogs. Many feature relatively simple maps, but are still dynamic and engaging as an approach to visual storytelling. While my own academic interests are more aligned with social and political geography, I’ve really enjoyed StoryMaps focused on nature and wildlife, like this one about grizzly bear habitats in the American West.
This incredible, and disturbing, resource illustrates patterns of residential segregation (red-lining) created by federal home loan programs in the post-war United States. This map also serves as an example of the GIS technique of georeferencing, in which images (in this case historical maps depicting the infamous color-coding of neighborhoods which reinforced segregation) are joined to maps containing geographic coordinate information.
I was introduced to this podcast in the GIS courses at Heller. It’s a great resource to learn about the geospatial community, including new techniques and professional development opportunities.
“On Exactitude in Science” (easy to find a translation online, or in a library)
One of my favorite writers is Jorge Luis Borges. His (extremely) short story “On Exactitude in Science” is a wonderful commentary on the tension between precision and practicality in gathering and presenting data, and reflects the fact that the presentation and use of social information is culturally coded (in this case the culture is that of a fictional civilization) and contentious. It’s always fun when things I encountered as an English major are relevant to my Heller coursework!
I’ll close by emphasizing again how useful some basic mapping skills (and my GIS skills are certainly still those of an amateur) can be for students of policy, conflict studies, and international development. GIS, and data visualization in general, are becoming increasingly important to practitioners in the fields for which Heller prepares its students. I definitely encourage everyone to consider taking a GIS course.