Geographic Information Systems

A Geographic Information System is an essential collection of tools in Spatial Science. Like other business intelligence systems, a GIS is comprised of technologies that support the collection, analysis and management of spatial data. Spatial data are information about all aspects of space, and can be connected to other business information that is routinely collected. Spatial data take the form of vector (point, line, and polygon geometries) and raster (grids of cells like a photograph) data structures, where each feature or object can have table data associated with it. Although spatial data can tell us where things are, more importantly a GIS can help us to understand the spatial relations between places and spaces.

Spatial relations tell us about distributions, connections, correlations, and sometimes causations between spatial data. These relationships can be compared over time to better understand changes and patterns. ​This means that GIS doesn’t just answer the question ‘where’, it can also answer the questions ‘what’, ‘who’, and ‘when’ – but most importantly it has the potential to answer the questions ‘how’ and even ‘why’.

In this way, a GIS makes possible the creation of one or more scale models of the world that allow you to understand spatial relationships, patterns/anomalies, or phenomena not otherwise visible through direct observation alone. Refer to Wiki GIS f​or more information.​

Who can use GIS resources? GIS resources are available to faculty, staff and students.

Where are GIS resources located? To the degree possible, GIS resources are distributed throughout campus. Different software is available for different operating systems (Windows or Mac). Windows computers have ArcGIS and other GIS software installed, while Macs have QGIS installed. Most campus computers have some kind of GIS software installed and these are suitable for basic viewing, exploration, and mapping. However, only the GIS Lab workstations are suitable for advanced spatial analysis and modeling.

Windows (ArcGIS, QGIS, GlobalMapper, ENVI):

  • Jesup Hall, Rooms 205 & 207 (GIS Lab)
  • Most Sawyer/Schow Library computers

Mac (QGIS only):

  • Wachenheim, Room 001 (Geosciences Lab)
  • Sawyer Library, Room 269 (CET Instruction Room)
  • Most Sawyer/Schow Library computers

How do I access GIS resources? Esri ArcGIS and other GIS software are licensed by the College and installed on all the computer lab PCs campus wide. In addition, QGIS is available on computer lab Macs. *Note that Mac computers may not have hardware that is compatible with some commercially available GPS and field data collection devices.

Faculty and staff may request to have the software installed on their Williams owned machines.  Senior thesis and independent study students may have their adviser request they be allowed to have ArcGIS licensed on their PC for the academic year (Mac users may install QGIS as needed).

How do I get GIS assistance? For assistance with data or tutorial resources please contact Cory Campbell.


Learning GIS at Williams

Spatial Science is valuable across the curriculum, and useful for understanding everything from changing planetary systems to political-economies.

Students: It is strongly recommended that students take GEOS/ENVI-214 no later than their 3rd year.


Foundational Training (concepts in spatial thinking):
    • Spatial Data Analytics [series – focused on geosciences but includes many techniques useful to any spatial analysis]
    • Community Ecology [series – focused on biology but relevant to other fields]
Foundational Training (technicals in spatial methods):

Maps for Course Discussions (History and Critical Cartography)