The Nature of Geographic Information

The Nature of Geographic Information


An Open Geospatial Textbook

David DiBiase with contributions by James L. Sloan II, Ryan Baxter, Wesley Stroh, Beth Fletcher King, and many students

The Pennsylvania State University

The purpose of this text is to promote understanding of the Geographic Information Science and Technology enterprise (GIS&T, also known as "geospatial"). Since I began writing in 1997, it has been a vehicle for me to understand the field better and to help my students do the same. Originally, my students were undergraduates enrolled in the Penn State course GEOG 121 (now 160): Mapping Our Changing World. Later, I developed an online text for students in our Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in GIS and Master of GIS (MGIS) degree program, both offered to adult professionals across the country and around the world through the University's "World Campus." A short version that includes ArcGIS exercises once appeared in Esri's "Virtual Campus" as "Understanding Geographic Data." Now, with the blessings of both Penn State and Esri, I am pleased to share the text with students and teachers everywhere as part of an Open Educational Resources initiative of Penn State's John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. You are welcome to use and re-use materials that appear in this text (other than those copyrighted by others) subject to the licensing agreement linked to the bottom of this and every page.

GIS&T is the intersection of professions, institutions, and technologies that produce geographic data and render information from it. It is a rapidly growing and evolving field. Learning is a way of life for all GIS&T professionals. With this in mind, I hope that this text may contribute to your lifelong exploration of how geospatial technologies can be used to improve the quality of life—yours and your neighbors', locally and globally, now and in the future.

The title of the text is a tribute to the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where my exploration of GIS&T began in 1983. There, and through projects that kept us in touch after we had gone our separate ways, I was privileged to work with Barbara Bartz Petchenik and Arthur Robinson. In 1976, Barbara and Robbie co-authored The Nature of Maps. Long before that, Richard Hartshorne published the influential (and controversial) The Nature of Geography in 1939, a year before moving to Madison.  It may be that neither of these works was altogether successful in revealing the nature of their subjects. Neither, perhaps, is this poorer attempt likely to succeed entirely. Still, I hope that its availability in this open format will be useful to those who can't afford expensive (though sometimes very good) printed texts, and I imagine that Barbara and Robbie would have approved.

I wish to thank colleagues in the Dutton e-Education Institute who help me make this text, and all our online curricula, available. I'm grateful to the thousands of students who have traversed this text over the years, and who continue to challenge me and my team to improve it.

Disclaimer: While technologies and professional practices in the GIS&T field evolve constantly, texts like this are updated only sporadically, as schedules permit. Be aware that some of this content may be dated. Comments and suggestions welcome

The National Science Foundation's Digital Libraries in the Classroom program supported portions of this work.