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1. Introduction to Mapping

Making a map is like learning a new language, it’s a slow and frustrating process because there are a lot of concepts unique to mapping and almost none of it makes sense in the beginning. This first part of the workshop is a very quick overview of mapping concepts to help orient you to the process of mapmaking. An example of a Points, Lines, and Polygon Map In this map of the United States we see three basic shapes—the cities are represented by points, the main rivers are represented by lines and the states are represented by polygons. While this is a very simple map, most maps that you’ve seen, even the most intricate ones only consist of these three basic shapes—points, lines and polygons. This type of mapping data is called “vector data.” Vector data can be stored in several file formats with the most common being a “shapefile.”

Features and Attributes

Another mapping concept that’s important to know is that the visualizations that are displayed on the map are called the map’s “features” and the data that’s connected to those shapes are called the maps “attributes.” Attribute data is stored in an attribute table, which is a lot like spreadsheet. One feature on the map can contain many attributes—the feature for the state of Florida has the attributes STATEFP (the state ID), STUSPS (the state abbreviation), NAME (the state name), etc. Any type of data that you have at the scale of the state can be put in this attribute table. The attribute table stores all of the data and then you decide what data you want to visualize.

Screenshot explaining the concepts features and attributes in mapping

Sidebar: Raster Data

There is another important type of data that we will not be using in this workshop, but you should be aware of. It’s called “raster data.” Raster data is an image, such as a satellite image, with “geolocations”—which just means location data. It’s beneficial to store geographic data as raster data when you are working with continuous data, such as heat or elevation.

An example of a Polygon Map

An example of a Line Map

An example of a Points, Lines, and Polygon Map


Challenges for lesson 1


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Vector data consists of?

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Terms Used in Lesson

Can you define the terms below? Hover over each of them to read a preview of the definitions.


Attributes offer secondary information about an element in HTML. Each attribute is nestled within the element tag. For example, the HTML command <a href="">Digital Humanities Research Institute</a> contains a link to the Digital Humanities Research …

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images of a specific location that represent visually continuous data such as temperature and elevation at a given resolution. Higher resolutions mean more precision but also larger file size. Raster layers have no Attribute Table; …

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There are two types of geographic data—vector data (points, lines, and polygons) and raster data (pixels). The most common way that vector data is stored is in the format of a shapefile. Therefore, a shapefile …

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A scalable point, line or polygon that can be easily created, edited, or deleted using GIS. Does not have a specific resolution. In QGIS, vectors are contained in vector layers, that can only contain a …

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Workshop overall progress