To view the much-improved documentation for ArcGIS 10,please visit http://ats.amherst.edu/software/gis10/. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a set of computer programs that can organize, display, and analyze spatially distributed data. At its simplest, GIS is ‘mapping’, providing a geographic arrangement of diverse information, allowing for visual comparison. Additional GIS tools can extract related features, provide geostatistical analysis, and generate 3D models and movies of time-dependent changes. GIS has been applied in geology, biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, history, political science, economics, and many other fields. Either of these can have tables of data associated with them, e.g. elevation, population, financial values, etc. Some samples of GIS-produced maps for the town of Amherst are shown below, clear evidence of its cross-disciplinary value. The data underlying these maps comes from many sources: the Town of Amherst, the State of Massachusetts, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Geological Survey. You will also learn how to export your maps into a number of formats such as PDF or Google Earth, so that it can be shared with others who don’t have this GIS software. The data has been prepared (geographically referenced) in advance so that you can focus on the general skills required to work with it. Often geographic data is not ready-to-use, and in subsequent classes you learn how to use these different formats. In these simple tables, information about each geographic region is in a single row, viz. its name and attribute data. You will learn about geographic spatial references and how the globe is projected onto flat maps on computer screens and paper. In the process you’ll learn to map another common tabular format for geographic data that uses X-Y coordinates such as latitude and longitude. This type of data can be geographically referenced by associating it with descriptions of its spatial reference (i.e. how its coordinate system is oriented in space). You will learn how to georeference scanned paper maps, and extract their features into vector layers. If you want to compare it with other sets of data, you can bring it into a GIS so that they can be overlayed. As seen in the previous section, there is a wide variety of data that can be used to build your own maps. Finding this data and pulling it together in a usable format is typically the largest effort involved in GIS. The Reference Librarians will be of great assistance in obtaining existing data, and Academic Technology Services can assist you in all of these activities. Geographic Information Systems have been around for more than forty years, but have become increasingly accessible as computing power has increased. Amherst College has one of the best GIS available, the Arc products from Environmental Systems Research Institute. Anyone with a Windows computer can install the free program ArcReader (available from the Software (K:) drive), allowing them to view ‘published maps’ produced by ArcGIS. ArcGIS is available on all Windows computers in most campus computer labs, as well as on classroom projection computers. In particular, there is a GIS computer classroom where faculty members can teach students about GIS or other subjects applying GIS, and give them a chance to work on projects with the latest hardware and software. Faculty and staff can install ArcGIS on any College-provided Windows computer, from the Software (K:) drive. Free one-year licenses are also available for students taking GIS-related courses or programs, visit this ESRI web site for more information. Amherst College’s license for the ArcGIS software includes a number of online courses prepared by ESRI. Amherst College maintains a collection of ArcGIS documentation in the form of Adobe Acrobat (PDF) digital books, on the network at The K:Maps folder also contains a great deal of data that can be used as the foundation for your own maps. The Amherst College Library maintains a web page of GIS resources, including links to the GIS books in the library’s collection. Source.