A few weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to attend an all-day GIS workshop offered by Frank Connolly, the Geospatial Data Librarian at Baruch College. It was very thorough and by the end everyone had finished a simple chloropleth map. For those of you interested in continuing with map-related DH and can spare a friday, I recommend the workshop, which is free and offered several times a semester.
Most professional GIS projects use ArcGIS, made by ESRI, and many institutions subscribe to it to support their GIS projects. It’s not cheap. But, (yay!) there is an open-source alternative called QGIS, which anyone can download. This is the software we used in the workshop. QGIS is far more versatile than CartoDB, but it also has a complex interface and a steep learning curve.
In the workshop, we covered the pros and cons of various map projections (similar to some of our readings) and different types of map shapefiles (background map images); GPS coordinates vs. standard latitude/longitude (sometimes they differ) ;how to geo-rectify old maps so that they line up with modern maps and geocoordinates; open data sources; and how to organize and add information to a QGIS datababse.
The entire workshop tutorial, which participants took home, is available on the Baruch library website. If you’re comfortable learning complicated software on your own, it’s a great resource. Personally, I would need to spend a lot more time working with QGIS, with someone looking over my shoulder, to get a feel for the program. But practicing with the manual over the winter break will be on my ever-growing “to-do” list.