GEOG 160
Mapping Our Changing World



Have you ever found driving directions and maps online, used a smartphone to ‘check in’ to your favorite restaurant, or entered a town name or ZIP code to retrieve the local weather forecast?

Every time you and millions of other users perform these tasks, you are making use of Geographic Information Science (GIScience) and related spatial technologies. Many of these technologies, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and in-vehicle navigation units, are very well known, and you can probably recall the last time you’ve used them.

Other applications and services that are the products of GIScience are a little less obvious, but they are every bit as ubiquitous. In fact, if you’re connected to the Internet, you’re making use of geospatial technologies right now. Every time your browser requests a webpage from a Content Delivery Network (CDN), a geographic lookup occurs, and the server you’re connected to contacts other servers that are closest to it and retrieves the information. This happens so that the delay between your request to view the data and the data being sent to you is as short as possible.

Simply put, GIScience and the related technologies are everywhere, and we use them every day!

In this chapter, you will learn about how location-based data makes GIScience possible; ways geographical data are used; geographical information systems (GIS) that have been developed to collect, store, analyze, and disseminate geographical information; the ways in which GIScience knowledge can contribute to careers as diverse as urban planning, information science, or public health, and the kinds of careers followed by those within GIScience itself.


The goal of Chapter 1 is to introduce the many kinds of geographical information that permeate our daily lives and to situate that information and its uses within the larger enterprise known as Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS&T), what the U.S. Department of Labor calls the "geospatial industry." In particular, students who successfully complete Chapter 1 should be able to:

  1. identify geographic data and what makes location-based data special;
  2. explain the qualities of a map and what separates maps from other graphics;
  3. recognize the sources of geographic data;
  4. describe the kinds of questions that GIS can help answer.

Chapter lead author: Joshua Stevens.
Portions of this chapter were drawn directly from the following text: 

Joshua Stevens, Jennifer M. Smith, and Raechel A. Bianchetti (2012), Mapping Our Changing World, Editors: Alan M. MacEachren and Donna J. Peuquet, University Park, PA: Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University.