Friday, 20 July 2012

Experimenting with GIS maps online

Yesterday I spent the day attempting to make a map graphic for a chapter of my thesis. I knew in my head how the information could look if superimposed onto a map, and I knew that such a diagram would be far superior to too much text explaining how the system worked.

As a GIS novice I began with some trepidation, but soon found that the user interface of mapping software has come on leaps and bounds since my early flirting with such programmes as an undergraduate. After some research and trials; from the simple - Google map enabled online services such as Quik Maps - to the complex - expensive GIS software such as ArcView - I settled on the new offering from ESRI ArcGIS Online.

The information I wanted to represent graphically on the map highlighted the chains of communication of the Storm Tide Warning Service as operational in the UK in 1963. I wanted to show the process from the gathering of data through to the issuance of a warning for the vulnerable community of Canvey Island. Below is the result of my efforts:

The Storm Tide Warning Service, 1963.  © Alexander Hall.
Whilst I'm sure any geographers or GIS whizz-kids reading this wont be too impressed with my efforts, I thought I'd post my results here to encourage more historians to engage with digital mapping. The information that inputted into this map was drawn from three sources stored across two archives, and as such required the skills of a historian to collate, extract, and finally visualise the data.

I would encourage anyone interested in using digital maps in their work to have a play on the ArcGIS Online software; an editable version of my map is here. Such maps can really add depth and detail to a historical narrative, helping the reader to visualise spatial data. Further many modern software packages can also include a temporal dimension allowing you to represent changes to a service, system, or statistics over time.

If you have any experiences, tips, examples etc for a novice just stepping into the world of digital mapping please leave them in the comments box below.


  1. That's really useful, Alex - thanks! Tried to find something similar when doing my thesis, but my experience was like your undergrad one, by the sound of it, so no maps in my thesis in the end (boo, hiss!). Will make a note of this for future ref, so many thanks for sharing!

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