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Introduction to Mapping

In the past decade, interactive maps have become one of the most popular ways to visualize and explore spatial data. Responding to the demand, mapping companies such as ESRI have developed a suite of tools for both creating and contextualizing interactive maps. While extremely helpful, some of the ESRI products are prohibitively expensive for many individuals. This workshop will use a combination of the public version of ESRI Online, which is free, and the free, open-source mapping software QGIS to build an interactive map. By the end of this workshop you will know the basics for making an interactive map that can be shared and embedded in a website. No mapping experience is necessary.

In this workshop, you will learn to:

  • Add pop-ups to your map.
  • Become familiar with fundamental mapping concepts, such as how spatial data is organized and displayed.
  • Combine data through performing a “spatial join.”
  • Consider some of the core ethical dilemmas of mapmaking.
  • Distinguish among two different forms of spatial data—vector data and raster data.
  • Import and export data between different mapping tools.
  • Share your interactive map as a URL or embed it in a website.
  • Turn a spreadsheet with location data into a map layer (the name of this process is “geocoding”).
  • Understand the difference between the most popular mapping software.

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Last updated: September 15, 2021

Before you get started

In this section, we want to introduce some central steps that you want to take before you get started with this workshop. For instance, there are workshop suggestions that you may want to engage with before you start this workshop, some required or recommended software installations, some files from external sources to download, etc.


This is a list of workshops that we suggest you engage with before you get started with this one. They are listed here as they contain some central concepts or tools that you may need before you can digest all the information you will be presented in this workshop.


Why am I learning this? Why does it matter? How will it help my project? Learning new digital skills is an investment of your valuable time, so it is reasonable to want to know—essentially—what will I get out of taking this workshop? The materials below help situate the skills you are about to learn within a larger context of how they are used, by whom, and to what ends.

Ethical considerations

Digital tools and the skills required to use them are part of our culture and, therefore, never neutral. Digital humanists and social scientists consider the ethical challenges and responsibilities of the tools and methods that they use. The following materials are designed to introduce you to issues you may want to consider as you learn this new skill and decide how to integrate it into your own research and teaching.

Counter Mapping: Zuni Maps. The indigenous Zuni people describe their mapping project and the ways it challenges Western modes of mapping.

Harley, J. B. (1989). Deconstructing the map. Cartographica: The international journal for geographic information and geovisualization, 26(2), 1-20. This is a classic text by Brian Harley – one of the first Foucauldian analyses of mapping.

Kwan, M. P. (2008). From oral histories to visual narratives: Re-presenting the post-September 11 experiences of the Muslim women in the USA. Social & Cultural Geography, 9(6), 653-669. This study by a feminist GIS scholar uses 3D body maps to challenge the 2D limitations of most maps. She also combines interviews and survey data to create the visualizations.

Pavlovskaya, M. (2002) Mapping urban change and changing GIS: Other views of economic restructuring. Gender, place and culture: A journal of feminist geography 9, 281-289. This study demonstrates how GIS can be part of a critical and feminist analysis of economic development.

Pavlovskaya, M., & Martin, K. S. (2007). Feminism and geographic information systems: From a missing object to a mapping subject. Geography Compass, 1(3), 583-606. This article makes the case for feminist GIS.

Readings before you get started

The readings listed below situate what you are about to learn in cultural contexts, such as a particular humanities or social science field, the information or computer sciences, or popular discourse. The purpose of the readings is to provide a theoretical framework you can use to contextualize how you intend to use the skill or tool introduced in this workshop.

Projects related to Introduction to Mapping

The following are sample projects that use the skill or tool (either implicitly or explicitly) that you are about to learn. Some skills that are foundational may seem not to lead to a specific project goal that you have in mind. You might be surprised to learn that the following projects depend on the skills learned in this workshop.

Datasets related to Introduction to Mapping

An introduction to what datasets are and what they do in our frontmatter section.

Download the dataset we will work with by clicking here
Download the dataset we will work with by clicking here.
Look at a version of the map we are going to make in this workshop
Look at a version of the map we are going to make in this workshop.
Download the dataset we will work with by clicking here
Download the dataset we will work with by clicking here.

Meet your instructor

Olivia Ildefonso is a Ph.D. Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences with a specialization in Human Geography at the Graduate Center (CUNY). She studies the political economy of school segregation. Her research focuses on Long Island, New York. Olivia is a Long Island native and has worked as a racial justice activist on Long Island for the past ten years. She has worked for civil rights organization, ERASE Racism since 2010 and she has served on the board of directors for STRONG Youth since 2013. Olivia is currently a GC Digital Fellow. She specializes in GIS Mapping, website management, and multi-media storytelling. Before becoming a GC Digital Fellow, Olivia was an Adjunct Lecturer at Queens College and a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) fellow at John Jay College.

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Projects I have worked on