It may come as a surprise to the average American to realize how much geography matters. Linking maps to information digitally allows scientists and analysts to extract patterns and trends – in defense, climate change, land management, business, politics and more. In short, geographic information systems (GIS) help manage the world.
At the Library of Congress, GIS can be used to examine the past, learn more about the present and analyze any phenomenon that can be spatially imagined. The Geography and Map Division uses GIS and other geographic-and-statistical-modeling software in projects as varied as tracking the Lincoln-Douglas debates and studying the origin of medieval sailing charts. The Congressional Cartography Program uses GIS to provide Congress with geospatial information regarding legislative and policy issues.
The Library will celebrate GIS Day and demonstrate uses of the technology in a program titled “Research Orientation to GIS” from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Nov. 19
in the Geography and Map Reading Room in the basement of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.
The program is sponsored by the Library’s Congressional Cartography Program (CCP) and the Geography and Map Division (G&M). GIS Day is part of Geography Awareness Week from Nov. 16 to 22.
The program’s first two presentations will focus on mapping technology applications to resolve geographic conflict in historic maps and charts. Portolan Charts – maps of the Mediterranean Sea from 1250 to 1600 – exhibit a unique rotation when compared with projected maps of the period. John Hessler, a senior reference librarian in G&M, will discuss computer modeling and the statistical research that he has been conducting on these medieval charts, in an effort to solve the mystery of why they are rotated and how they might have been used.
The Library’s Interpretive Programs Office, which mounts exhibitions, asked CCP to create maps relating to important events in President Lincoln’s life. The inquiry led CCP cartographer Nicholas Jackson to implement a digital process known as “rubber sheeting.” Jackson will explain the process, which he used to rectify historic maps and geo-reference them to contemporary state maps.
An additional presentation by CCP cartographer Jacqueline Nolan will focus on software tools available for data analysis, as applied to population data, disease statistics and geospatial data. The final presentation will feature librarian Edward Redmond, who will conduct a hands-on demonstration of software technology available to patrons through the G&M Reading Room who are interested in developing their own GIS projects.
The Congressional Cartography Program was established in 2002 at the Library of Congress to respond to congressional inquiries and requests for geospatial information regarding legislative issues. CCP serves Congress directly and through the Congressional Research Service and the G&M Reading Room.
The Library of Congress has the largest and most comprehensive collection of maps and atlases in the world, some 4.8 million cartographic items that date from the 14th century to the present time. The Library's map collections contain coverage for every country and subject, and include the works of all the famous map makers throughout history—Ptolemy, Waldseemüller, Mercator, Ortelius and Blaeu. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/