GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, is, as Meg Beasley, a writer for National Geographic explains, “combination of traditional cartography and database technology.”(1) Beasly also points out that “any variable that can be located spatially can be fed into a GIS and represented on a map.” For historians and archaeologists, this means that it is possible to create your own maps for teaching and it is also possible to analyze data collected from primary sources that corresponds to specific geographic locations for research projects. For example, a historian attempting to figure out which regions of New England had the most alleged witches during the late seventeenth-century might enter the locational data extracted from public records describing the accusations against specific “witches” into the GIS software in order to produce a customized map of the geographic area that indicates the density of accused witches in each area of New England during that time period. Essentially, this data becomes another layer in a map, just as you might remove or add layers which display elevations or the location of railroads.
Almost all of us currently use GIS in our daily lives, even if we do not even realize it. For instance, the navigation systems in our cars or on our mobile phones employ GIS to show us where we are in relation to the rest of the world. Although GIS software is complicated, it is possible for those who are not experts in GIS to employ the technology for both personal and academic use. Realizing that not everyone is a geographer or a whiz on the computer, ESRI, the creator of ArcGIS, the best GIS program, provides training both online and in the classroom for those who want to learn more about specific applications.(2) While some of the courses come with a hefty price, many of the online individual training modules are provided free of charge.(3)

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