The Yale Daily News has a great article about the role that the GIS Specialist, Stace Maples, plays on campus. Maples, a fellow ESRI T3G Institute alum from summer 2010, works with faculty and students on integrating GIS into teaching and research at Yale and…
… he is in high demand. Working in the three-person Map Department, a department within the Yale University Library, he trains students and faculty in the use of the arcane computer program. He helps professors in areas from history to public health, in such projects as diverse as mapping correspondence networks and placing photographic collections in a geological context. He is adamant that geographical data is relevant to all academic endeavors.
“Everything is somewhere, and that somewhere matters,” Maples declared.
Although I take issue with the reporter’s use of the word ‘arcane’ to describe GIS software, I’ll second Stace’s assessment that location matters (or, as the Geospatial Revolution team at Penn State put it, “the location of anything is becoming everything“). In a statement that is sure to resonate with faculty, Peter Bol, the director of the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University, is quoted in the article as saying that:
“If you want to publish competitive research today, you have to have GIS.”
That might be a bit of an overstatement (for the moment, at least), but there’s no doubt that incorporating GIS and spatial analysis is increasingly becoming an expectation in academic research, much in the same way as it has become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. Dana Tomlin – who is… a visiting faculty member in the Yale School of Forestry, co-director of the Cartographic Modeling Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, a GIS Hall of Fame-r, the creator of map algebra, and, incidentally, the grad school professor who got me hooked on GIS (thanks, Dana!), sums it up this way:
“With the advent of web mapping services like Google Earth and Bing, the ability to sense geographical position in real time via the Global Positioning System (GPS), and the opportunity to place this sort of magic quite literally into the hands of anyone with a smart phone, there is no question that the world at large is already well beyond the point of no return in terms of making routine use of geographical data in digital form.”
GIS has existed as a computing technology since the 1960’s, but until the mid to late 1990’s it was largely the domain of highly-trained specialists working from high-powered servers. GIS software and web-based map apps have become increasingly faster, more powerful and more user-friendly over the last 20 years. If those trends continue, and if we do our jobs well, Stace and I might very well work ourselves out of a job:
It is conceivable that GIS might one day become as ubiquitous within academia as Google Maps is within the broader population. If departments integrate GIS into their own teaching, the role that Maples and other specialists play is likely to diminish. Graduate students in fields employing GIS are expected to understand the program and its functionalities… Meanwhile, academics who only rarely use GIS might consult specialists if and when necessary, while remaining blissfully oblivious of the program’s nitty-gritty.
Today’s graduate students are tomorrow’s professors. And, if the trends hold true, at least a significant proportion of them will soon be using GIS technology to gain deeper insight into diverse fields of study for decades to come. So map on, Maples.
Click here to read the full story and learn more about how Yale faculty and students are using GIS to study history, archaeology, linguistics, environmental studies, forestry, public health and other topics.