Public databases online

Commonly-used geospatial data about infrastructure (e.g. roads, railroads), natural resources (streams, waterbodies, wetlands, habitat), political and administrative boundaries, and demographics (population, age, race, ethnicity, income) for parts of the world, the U.S., New York State, Dutchess County, and the Vassar College campus are available on the a network server to which all students and faculty have access. Additional data can be obtained from various academic and administrative sources in the U.S. and around the world. Below is a list of various data sources by geographic extent and theme. Contact GIS Academic Computing Consultant, Neil Curri, for more information.

New York State

  • New York State GIS Clearinghouse ( – Where to start looking for state-wide data in New York. Data is also available at the county level for many counties across the state. There’s also a collection of natural resource data associated with the Hudson River.
  • CUGIR: Cornell University Geospatial Information Repository ( – An alternative to the NYS GIS Clearinghouse for state-wide and/or county-wide data. Some layers, such as state-regulated wetlands and agricultural districts, are only available here and not on the Clearinghouse.

New York City

United States

  • The National Map ( – Click on the link for the National Map Viewer to view and capture the data you want for a particular region, or define the region yourself.
  • USDA NRCS Geospatial Data Gateway ( – The provides primarily natural resource data (e.g. soils). Data is downloaded from the site by the county you specify, and multiple counties can be chosen at once.
  • U.S. Census Bureau ( – Census geographies obtained here can be used in combination with data from the American Factfinder to create maps of demographic patterns. See the excellent tutorial from Tufts GIS Center: Downloading Census Data from American Factfinder for use in ArcGIS for instructions.
  • The USGS (, the main map-production agency in the US, provides environmental data as well as standard reference maps.
  • List of 50+ Federal GIS Servers ( – List of the internet addresses for all ‘public facing’ federal GIS servers. Includes only ‘top’ endpoint for ArcGIS servers (those links all end in “rest/services”). Map services found at these servers are typically only available for display, not for download and analysis, though there may be exceptions, especially if you are using ArcGIS Pro, which is tightly integrated with ArcGIS web services.


  • National Historic Geographic System ( – The National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) provides population, housing, agricultural, and economic data, along with GIS-compatible boundary files, for geographic units in the United States from 1790 to the present. Obtaining the same data from NHGIS can be a useful alternative to downloading data from American Factfinder for use in GIS, especially if looking for historic demographic and socioeconomic data.
  • David Rumsey Historical Map Collection ( – Contains high resolution map images that can be georeferenced online or downloaded and georeferenced in GIS. Includes rare 16th through 21st century maps of America, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Pacific, Arctic, Antarctic, and the World.

Help finding GIS Data

Some colleges and universities provide guides for finding GIS data. Some are more helpful than others. If you’re not having luck Googling sites or finding open data sites and data for the regions or topics in which you are interested for your digital essay, you might try starting with those. 

MIT: (Look in the sub-menu under the “Find Data” button)

UC Davis: