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Image at top shows a map of demographic data for Philadelphia

Mapping & GIS: Digital Mapping for Historians and Humanists

This is the LibGuide that accompanies the workshop Digital Mapping for Historians and Humanists, February 2023.

Workshop URL

To make it easier to load this page, I have made a shorter URL. The idea is that I can load this page on the projector, and you can type the URL into your browser to get started faster.

GIS terms and definitions

"A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer system that analyzes and displays geographically referenced information. It uses data that is attached to a unique location."
from: USGS

"A basemap is a reference map on which users can overlay multiple layers of spatial or geographic data upon, such as vector or raster data."
from: Carto

Feature class
A feature class is a collection of geographic features that share the same geometry type (such as point, line, or polygon) and the same attribute fields for a common area. Streets, well points, parcels, soil types, and census tracts are examples of feature classes."
from: ESRI

"A shapefile is a simple, nontopological format for storing the geometric location and attribute information of geographic features."
from: ESRI

"A page layout (often referred to simply as a layout) is a collection of map elements organized on a virtual page designed for map printing."
from: ESRI

Georeferencing means that the internal coordinate system of a digital map or aerial photo can be related to a ground system of geographic coordinates."
from: USGS

"Digitizing in GIS is the process of converting geographic data either from a hardcopy or a scanned image into vector data by tracing the features.  During the digitzing process, features from the traced map or image are captured as coordinates in either point, line, or polygon format."
from: GIS Lounge

Additional Libguides for History and GIS

Historical Maps guide, an overview on finding historical maps, software for map overlays, software for making maps, and instructions on citing maps. This is an older guide, but it has a lot of great links to further resources.

Global GIS guide, which is focused on accessing GIS data from around the world.

Quantum GIS guide, which is more in-depth guide to QGIS, the software we will be using for this workshop. This guide is a little bit out of date.

Week 2 - Georeferencing in QGIS

Philadelphia, 1883 by Frank Gray

No slides today!

Click here for the Mac guide

Click here for the Windows guide

Week 1 - Introduction to Storymaps and QGIS


Click here for the slides


Click here for the tutorial

Note: We did not complete the tutorial, and only covered Story Maps.

QGIS will be covered next week.

Week 3 - Tabular Data

Click here for the tutorial

Week 3 - Tabular Data

Click here for the tutorial

Week 4: 3D and elevation data analysis

Click here for this week's tutorial

Click here to download this week's exercise data

Additional GIS Data

Basemaps and Shapefiles

Historical Basemaps from André Ourednik, click here to download all the files as a .zip archive.

CShape has post-WWII states and capitals

Native Land Digital provides a global database for native languages and peoples.

EarthWorks has global geospatial data, including over 5,000 datasets prior to 1900

CHGIS from Harvard hosts a variety of datasets from East Asia including

China Historical GIS Data from Harvard, from 221 BCE  to 1911 CE
Japan Historical GIS Data from Harvard, from 1564 to 1828.

Pleiades contains approximately 40,000 locations from the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Historical Map collections

David Rumsey is a map collector who has scanned and uploaded much of his collection for use in the public domain. These maps have a global scope, and are organized into many themes.

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection from the University of Texas Libraries hosts historical maps

Additionally the UT Libraries has a list of links to historical map websites.

Old Maps Online is a collection of historical maps from around the world, maintained by Klokan Technologies GmbH.

Maps of the world showing history from Wikimedia is a mix of old maps and contemporary maps containing historical information.

Old Maps of the world from Wikimedia is the category of maps from after 1492.
Maps of the world before Columbus from Wikimedia is the category of maps from before 1492.

G. William Skinner Map Collection focuses on China, Japan and France. This is the personal map collection of William Skinner, an anthropologist, which was given to the University of Washington. Topics include economic variables and Skinner's concepts of "macroregions," and sources include detailed military maps.

Historic Cities has maps of Europe as well as European city names throughout time.

HGIS de las Indias contains over 1000 base maps in colonial Spanish America in 1701, 1750, and 1800.

Populations is a collection of projects related to survey and census data.

IPUMS International is is the world's largest archive of publicly available census samples.
IPUMS NHGIS provides census and survey data from across time and space.

LandScan is a dataset that contains contemporary population distribution estimates

Further GIS for History lessons

Programming Historian has a large number of GIS focused lessons geared towards historians.