Course Details

This course is for people who want to make their own maps to analyse or communicate their historical research using Geographical Information Systems software.

This short course introduces the practicalities of mapping historical information using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. The course is focused on using maps and GIS as tools in spatial analysis of other primary sources, not simply on drawing maps. Experience in using spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel is essential (i.e. you must be confident using formulae and functions), and experience of using relational databases such as Microsoft Access is strongly recommended.

GIS can do much more than simply create maps as illustrations – it is designed to be an analytical tool. Historians approaching their work with spatial research questions in mind can explore patterns, trends, and connections in their source material, and relationships with space, distance, and even topography, in ways that would seldom otherwise be possible.

However, historians not only have to come to terms with the cartographic and technical learning curves that come with the use of GIS but must also address the added complication of changing geographies over time. These complexities can be overcome, turning GIS into an extremely powerful research tool. We will use both ArcGIS and QGIS software to view and manipulate historical data to create thematic mapping to illustrate social, demographic, and chronological patterns.

Through various exercises, we will focus on exploring these key points:

  • GIS is a database, rather than a drawing – a GIS project depends on tabular (spreadsheet style) data
  • Geographical data can come in many different digital formats (raster, vector, polygon, point, tabular)
  • Historical data must be prepared for use with a GIS (geo-coding tabular or textual data, and geo-referencing images) – and the preparatory work for geocoding, often in a separate spreadsheet or database, is often the most important step
  • GIS is designed for working with and combining existing geographical datasets, and literally drawing your own map elements is a last resort – we will explore ways to find data (both current and historical) to help you begin mapping your own material quickly 
  • Combining different sets of data often helps to answer research questions – we will explore some ways you might do this

No previous experience of using GIS software is necessary, but all students should ensure they are confident with spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel to a relatively advanced level (e.g. being familiar with functions such as VLOOKUP), or have experience using relational databases such as Microsoft Access, Filemaker Pro, or other SQL based systems.

Date: 31 May 2024*

*In order to provide an interactive, dynamic short course experience the IHR requires a minimum number of delegates to run the short course.
If a course is cancelled due to low enrolment, delegates will be offered the option of a refund or a transfer on to a different date. 

Fees for 2023/24 academic year

  • Standard: £125
  • Concession (student/unwaged)£100


Please note that this course will be taking place in-person only, and that the number of places available is limited.