Working with Maps

University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-03728, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

As noted in our overview, digital mapping uses a number of different technologies to represent geographic space on a screen. Images are generated from physical and printed maps, layers are georectified to fit contemporary street maps, and contextualizing information augments geographic points or sections.

Some visualization programs may serve the need for creating accurate print maps; Tableau offers options to quickly create publicaton-quality maps. More advanced users can also utilize D3 to create their own interactive, web-based maps.

Some, but not all, mapping technologies are known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology. These programs store complex spatial and temporal information, and may also be used to analyze both geographic and non-geographic data. ArcGIS is the most common GIS software used across disciplines and industries; it is available without charge to all Social Sciences Division faculty, and for an annual fee to all other University researchers. All University researchers have access, free of charge, to the online version of ArcGIS, to create and share their own maps. A more robust web map builder is CARTO, which allows researchers more flexibility in the data they import, create, and edit. Maps in CARTO can also be made interactive, giving their users the ability to more closely explore map data, and can be easily shared in web pages. However, maps and data in CARTO are public, and both of these programs are managed by third-party companies.

The most powerful free GIS software is QGIS. QGIS can perform many analytical and display tasks not available in ArcGIS Online or CARTO, and can create high-quality static print maps for publication. It is an open-source desktop program, allowing researchers to retain total control over their maps and data, rather than storing remotely on a third-party server; however, due to its complexity, it can take longer to learn to use.

The University's GIS website offers and overview of Geographic Information Systems services on campus: software, facilities, and both formal and online training coursework. Researchers exclusively affiliated with the Social Sciences Division can receiving consulting and assistance on GIS for their project free of charge; other researchers can receive these services for a fee. The Oriental Institute's Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes can also assist in providing expertise and training in the use of geographic data. 

University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-03728, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library