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History 395: Migration in African History: Creating Maps

Mapping Basics

In order to create a digital map, you need two sets of data:

  1.  Descriptive data that can be georeferenced (associated with locations in physical space).  Examples include:
    • Census data
    • Epidemiological data
  2. A geospatial dataset, known as the shape file, that provides GIS coordinates.  Examples include:
    • Country boundaries
    • State boundaries
    • Census tracts

From these two sets of data, you will create a combined file.  This process of combining descriptive data with geospatial data is known as georeferencing or geocoding.



Mapping with CartoDB

CartoDB is an excellent entry-level tool for creating digital maps.  More experienced mappers may wish to use ArcGIS, a subscription to which is available via V-desk for the University of Puget Sound community.

Steps for creating a map based on ACS data:

1.  Sign in to CartoDB.

2.  On the CartoDB dashboard, select "datasets."

3.  Search the CartoDB dataset library for U.S. Census geographies. OR:  Import your geographies dataset from another source.  This is your shapefile!  Add it to your datasets: select, connect dataset.

4.  Now you'll add in your data table from ACS.  Select "new dataset" and drag over your ACS dataset.

5.  Pause for a moment to take a look at the codebooks.   You'll need this information later!

6.  Now you're going to merge the shape file and the data table:

Select your shapefile.

Under edit, select "merge with dataset," and indicate the ACS dataset.

Select "gisjoin" in both columns

Select all columns (it will give you more options when you create your map)

7.  Now you'll work on the map.  Start by selecting the "interesting map" that CartoDB suggests.

8.  Click the wizards option from the CartoDB sidebar:

Select choropleth as the thematic map type
Change the visualized Column data to display what you want (from the codebook)
Explore the effects of other changes on your map.

9.  Edit the map metadata (title, description).

10.  When you're happy with your map, select "visualize" to publish it. 


What arguments are you making with your map?  How might you use your argument with the class readings you've done?