Digital Humanities Research Institute: Binghamton 2019

ArcGIS Online


This session serves as an introduction to ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS Online is a cloud-based mapping and analysis platform developed by ESRI, a company that specializes in geographic information systems (GIS) software. Like other GIS computational programs, ArcGIS Online is a platform to visualize, analyze, and share data with spatial properties.

The session will begin with an overview of geographic information systems (GIS). It will sketch the historic use of data-driven mapping for discovery and as a tool to make an argument. It will then outline the origins and use of computational methods in mapping and the spatial humanities.

We will then begin our walk-through of using ArcGIS Online. The walk-through will demonstrate the basics of GIS mapping, best practices for using the program, and how to navigate and manage data in the program. You will use data that I have provided for the session to perform a series of tasks. These tasks include: loading data onto a map; modifying the visual components of layers; finding and identifying particular features; editing and adding information to layers; using basic tools for data analysis; and saving and organizing layers. We will conclude the session with a mapping exercise where you will apply the skills you learned to find a solution to a real-world mapping problem. 
The goal of the session is for you to gain a basic understanding of GIS and basic competence in using ArcGIS Online. At the conclusion of the session, you should be able to get started in ArcGIS Online with your own datasets, aware of the possibilities and limitations of using ArcGIS Online for your own projects.

Before we begin the session, you should make sure that you have access to ArcGIS Online and have downloaded the datasets. If you do not have access to ArcGIS, please follow the instructions on this document: The datasets that we will be using are available in the DHRI shared folder. (Download DHRI-ArcGIS Online datasets here.)

Download the ArcGIS Online workshop PowerPoint here.

Sample GIS Projects:

Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture – Produced by the Lehigh University Digital Library, Beyond Steel highlights the mid-nineteenth century economic boom and late-twentieth century decline in the Lehigh Valley through the digitization and presentation of letters, books, photographs, maps, essays, and oral histories. The site is meant to aid researchers in understanding not only the lives of railroad barons and steel titans, but also the experiences of average folks who worked and lived in the community by integrating many sources by shared location.

Canals, 1820-1890 – Created by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, this project amassed data for canal commerce in the United States during the nineteenth century. The resulting map conveys the vitality of canals as engines of trade, economic development, and travel, showing the spaces that canals connected and information about the goods they carried.

Decisive Moments in the Battle of Gettysburg – Anne Kelly Knowles led a team (also included researcher Dan Miller and cartographer Alex Tait) to recreate terrain of the Gettysburg battlefield to answer the question: “What did Lee see?” They used GIS to depict troop positions on a 3D landscapes; created panoramic views and viewsheds to understand what the commanders could and could not see at key moments of the battle, that influenced their decisions (i.e. what was hidden from view). 

Map of White Supremacy Mob Violence – Created by a group called Monroe Work Today, this map plots incidents of lynchings from 1835 to 1965 in the United States. For additional information, see: Danny Lewis, “This Map Shows Over a Century of Documented Lynchings in the United States: Mapping the History of Racial Terror,” Smithsonian Magazine (January 24, 2017), available online at:

Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City – This project by Colin Gordon accompanies his book Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Its accompanying documents trace zoning, white flight, and urban renewal through the twentieth century in St. Louis, Missouri.

Pox Americana – In order to track the movement of the smallpox contagion in North America between 1775-1782, Elizabeth Fenn entered the data she collected into a GIS database. This page is a companion to her book, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (2001). It employs a heat map (when viewed on a wide scale) and point features to trace the contagion as it spread across time and space. 

Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America – Created by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, Mapping Inequality introduces viewer to the records of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation on a scale that is unprecedented. Collected here are more than 150 interactive maps and thousands of "area descriptions" that affords insights into discriminatory policies and practices that shaped the urban landscapes of the twentieth century. Follow this link to explore the entry for Binghamton and Johnson City, New York.

Star Wars Galaxy - Another possibility is to explore 3D data in Scene. This project used the CityEngine to plot and create a model of the Star Wars universe.

Trail of Blood: The Movement of San Francisco’s Butchertown and the Spatial Transformation of Meat Production, 1849-1901 – Created by Andrew Robichaud and Erik Steiner of the Stanford University Spatial History Lab, this project examines the spatial transformation of meat production in the late nineteenth century by mapping the locations of slaughterhouses and retail butcher shops in San Francisco.  

Visualizing Early Washington, D.C. – This project, published as a 5 minute video, is the end result of the UMBC’s Imaging Research Center (IRC) effort to recreate the landscape of Washington, D.C. as it looked between 1790-1820.  It uses 3D digital recreation and display techniques and documentary research to uncover the original landscape.

For additional projects, see the Esri Story Map page on Day 4 of the DHRI.

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