Friday, January 27, 2012

Toolkit: GIS

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. GIS uses computer programs to view and analyze geographic data ranging from landforms to demographic information. You can use GIS to look at differences in population statistics (age, occupation, ethnicity, gender) across regions ranging from census tracts to nations; to create buffer zones in areas being developed that will protect endangered species, waterways, or archaeological sites; to take spot measurements and create a topographic map... there are an almost endless amount of possibilities.

In archaeology, GIS is often used to predict the locations of archaeological sites. Pre-contact and early historic sites, for example, are often found on relatively flat land associated with certain soil types and within a certain distance of fresh water. Using topographic, hydrologic, and soils data downloaded from the web, archaeologists can tell the program to identify these high-sensitivity areas. For historic sites, early maps can be pulled into GIS and overlaid on the modern geography to see where early buildings were located.

Thinking about Wiawaka using ArcGIS 10. The spidery lines on the map are railroads.

I'll be using GIS a few different ways at Wiawaka. These include: mapping site features (using location data taken by GPS or using a total station); overlaying historic maps and aerial photographs to look at how the character of the property changed over time; soils analysis for drainage and productivity for agriculture to think about the farming and location of buildings and utilities; and looking at who the visitors to Wiawaka were using the guestbooks and census data (where they lived, occupation, age, etc.). More on this last example in my next post!

One of the most commonly used commercial GIS programs is the ArcGIS suite by ESRI. It's expensive, though they do offer a free 60-day trial if you want to check it out (or use their tutorial to learn some of the GIS basics). There are open source (free) options, however, including GRASS which I will be checking out soon!


Anonymous said...

I love GIS - When I used ARC (some years ago !!) years ago --I used Google earth and 1800's photocopied maps from the NYPL and the overlay was wonderful. How easy it was to get different scaled maps to stretch upon one another.

See if you can contact Alex at the GIS lab at Skidmore College. He LOVES history and would probably lend a hand or two.

GIS Center for Interdisciplinary Research

The Skidmore Geographic Information Systems Center provides students and faculty with a computing lab and expertise to incorporate GIS into course offerings and research across disciplines. The Center is also a resource for local governments, environmental and social non-profit organizations, and historic societies with its extensive catalog of Saratoga County socio-economic, historic, and natural resource data. The Skidmore GIS Center primarily uses ESRI ArcGIS 9.2 software to import data from a variety of sources.

Let me know if he doesn't get back to you !

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