What is GIS?

Geospatial Mapping

Geospatial mapping or GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies are a part of your everyday life. It’s in your smartphone, it’s how your Amazon packages arrive (mostly) at the correct address and within a relatively short amount of time, it’s why whenever you’re in a major city and feel like a latte, there just happens to be a Starbucks across the street. But its applications are far more wide-ranging and profound. A wonderful illustration of the breadth and depth of geospatial technologies can be found in the series of engaging videos from Penn State Public Broadcasting, the Geospatial Revolution Project.

You’re here because you have some sense of this, you want to have a little bit more understanding of the ways in which this technology is used, get a little vocabulary with which to think and talk about it, discover avenues for learning how to use the tools here at Vassar, and decide whether exploring these tools further is for you.

Geospatial mapping and GIS skills are increasingly in demand and in several career pathways. In the past, to use geospatial mapping tools on the job, you typically had to have a job where “GIS” was a part of the job title, such as GIS manager, GIS technician, or GIS analyst. Nowadays, GIS has become an enterprise-wide tool in many organizations, meaning that many people use GIS as a part of their job, even if “GIS” isn’t a part of their title. So, you can use GIS as a city planner, or a wildlife biologist, or an epidemiologist, or a market analyst, and so on.

This page outlines fundamental concepts and provides a couple of short exercises to give you a flavor for using geospatial mapping tools. After sampling here, if you’d like to get working with geospatial mapping, look for upcoming synchronous workshops to be announced on this page and other avenues online and on-campus, or contact GIS Academic Computing Consultant Neil Curri.


Much of the content for this page has been borrowed or adapted from Week 1 of Joseph Kerski’s, A complete first course in Modern Web-based GIS (CC by 4.0). Feel free to explore those lessons further at your leisure. Other borrowed information or content is sourced where used.

>> 1) Maps