Learn about geography through GIS Day at Wash. U.

| Staff Writer

For those of you who don’t know, Washington University is home to a vibrant Geographic Information Systems community. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is software that stores geographic data, which is used in applications ranging from GPS to Snapchat maps and Pokemon Go. On campus and beyond, GIS is a versatile tool used in a wide range of fields. Between the Earth and Planetary Sciences library and the GIS lab in Rudolph Hall, our GIS-based classes and programs—as well as plenty of other resources—make our school a great place for GIS.

As a promotion for an upcoming GIS day Nov. 15, there have been various GIS-related events around the University. One event that happened Wednesday, Nov. 8 was a short session focused on the topic of georeferencing historical maps. Georeferencing is a technique that associates points on an image to locations in physical space—in a way, it anchors something like an illustration of a city map to the actual geographic locations of the city’s landmarks. The session talked about the importance of having historical maps be georeferenced before directing the workshop attendees to wustl.georeferencer.com, a website where you can georeference maps from the library archives.

The WUSTL Georeferencer displays a scanned-in map on one side or your screen and a digital map of the world on the other. Your task is to find the location of the historical map and mark it on the digital one. Although this seems like a straightforward task, between new highways, construction projects and changed street names, it can become quite difficult.

Georeferencing, despite its confusing nature, is important for research into the history and culture of St. Louis. The maps in the georeferencing database give a unique view into what the city looked like over a hundred years ago, and seeing them in the context of their more familiar location provides a new perspective on how the city has changed and evolved over the years.

GIS Day, an annual event at Wash. U., is a celebration of the wonders of Geographic Information Systems. This year’s event will include presentations from people in multiple fields that use GIS on how it ties into and can benefit the wider community, as well as a trip to a nearby elementary school to teach local fourth graders how to use some GIS software.

If you are a geography enthusiast or want to learn more about how GIS affects our world, check out GIS day on Wednesday, Nov. 15, starting at 9 a.m. in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge.