Geographic Information Systems:
Geography in the real world
Using technology to interpret the world makes data analyzation a much less time-consuming task than in the past. Before the advent of the computer, each time one wanted to look at a different data set, a brand new map had to be laboriously hand drawn.

Now, using a program as basic as Excel, we can look at different factors that influence life around the world. Your task will involve applying numerical data to a series of maps to get a quick introduction to the power and capabilities of a GIS

  • Step 1: Obtain a set of data.
  • Step 2: Open the data in Excel. Look at the different columns. The first one should be the country names. The others are the data for each country arranged by year. Highlight the first column and whichever year you want to map.
  • Step 3: Locate the map icon on the upper right toolbar. Click on it. Now go into the spreadsheet again and click. This will start the mapping process.
  • Step 4: The first step in the mapping process is called ‘geocoding’ (see your notes). The GIS in Excel is matching the data you gave it to analyze with the information it contains for the basemap. Some of the names will not match up correctly and the program will "ask" for clarification. Tell the computer how to interpret the data
    • For example, the first one that should pop up for most of you will be ‘Central African Rep.’ The closest match the GIS has for that name is "Central African Republic." Are they the same? Yes. Highlight theat name and click "change."
    • Now, when a country comes up that should be included, find the match for it and click ‘change.’
    • The program will go through and ask you about all the inconsistencies between it and the data table. For " Yugoslavia, Fmr" use "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
  • Step 5: Once the geocoding has been completed, Excel will draw the map for you. You can adjust the view you have of it by either dragging the corners or via the ‘view’ command.
  • Step 6: Look at the "Microsoft Map Control" box. This is where you decide how you want your data displayed. The most common options are value shading, dot density, and gradated symbol. Click and drag the different symbols into the box to see how each is displayed (and how each makes your map appear).
    • The "Symbol Option" page lets you change the properties of the symbols or shading you’re using. Play around with different values, # of categories, symbols, etc., to see how they change the look of your map.
    • (Remember that when you print at school, you’re most likely going to be using black-and-white, so keep that in mind. I would suggest going to "map," "features," and removing the ‘oceans’ option.)
    • The "Legend control" page lets you label the map as you’d like. Make sure your map has the appropriate labels on it. 
  • Step 7: To print your map, I still haven’t found a really efficient way other than to click on the map, them select "edit," "copy," open a new workbook, and paste the map in it. Do NOT try to change the map after you've pasted it. It will not work and you'll lose the data that's already there. If you figure something else out, let me know!

Assignment # 1: 

Simply print out a map of the world with a correct title (for example: World Population Density by Dave Stutz)

Assignment # 2:

Print out 3 maps of your data from the same year using the same value range and # of categories: 1 value-shaded, 1 dot density, and 1 graduated symbol. Type up an analysis of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each map (what is good and bad about each).

Assignment #3:

Print out 2 maps: 1 from the first year of your data and one from the last year. Analyze and explain the changes and similarities.
Option: If you want, you can simply subtract the last column from the first, map the difference, print out that map and analyze the difference.

Assignment #4:

Print out 2 maps of the same year, but try to make them imply completely different conclusions. Use different symbols, different scales, different categories, etc. 

Assignment #5:

One of the strengths of a GIS is the ability to overlay different data layers, like putting overhead transparencies atop one another. In this way relationships between different causes can be inferred. Using a different data set for the same year, create a new spreadsheet and map the two together.
    • You’ll need to copy and paste the data column from one set next to the country and data columns from the other. Highlight all 3 and start the mapping process
    • Now you’ll have the option to choose 2 different ways to display the information on top of one another. Drag the column you want to use (usually B or C) down into the map control and then choose the type of symbol to use.
    • Unfortunately, because this is a real low-end GIS, you don’t have the option of adding a whole range of textures and shading on a map. 

You can get some idea of the power of a graphical display of information. It makes patterns that might not have been immediately obvious more visible and easier to view (of course, as you’ve seen, it also is very easy to manipulate the data to reach widely varying conclusions!!)