A Beginner’s Guide to Mapping Early America with Basic GIS

QGISOver the past couple years, friends have asked me a lot about maps and mapping software—questions I probably have no business fielding. I’m not truly formally trained in GIS, I’ve picked up a lot of things online, from books, in workshops, but mostly through trial-and-error, and half the time I still prefer to draw my maps by hand. (Yes, I like to draw.) It’s sort of like the four-eyed leading the blind.

There’s a reason, though, that my friends have few other places to turn. Workshops at universities, as well as many guides online, are still largely geared towards those working on more contemporary history, and to those looking to manipulate census and other large data sets. For those of us working on colonial America—especially those working on frontiers, borderlands, and native grounds—our materials rarely support this kind of work.

As I thought about my post the last couple days, I realized I wanted to write something less to those also working on spatial-intensive projects, and something more for those—like my friends—looking to find quick and simple ways to add maps to presentations and papers. In other words, those who aren’t about to download ArcGIS, run windows on their mac, enroll in a series of workshops, lose days (weeks and months) to inputting vector and raster data, and become geospatial pros. Those who are more interested in manipulating a historic map than creating a new one from historic data. Casual mappers and prospective weekend warriors of geohistorical analysis, this is for you. Continue reading