Tuesday, June 4, 2013

EPPS Freshman Discovers GIS

By Nathan Yee, EPPS Guest Blogger

When I stepped into my EPPS 1110 course last fall, I was confused about the group work we were assigned to do. Each group had to give a presentation on one of the majors within EPPS. The reason my confusion was the fact that instead of my enrolled major, economics, I was assigned to the mysterious GIS major. GIS? I haven't even heard of such a major before! I had to investigate GIS pretty quickly and understand why it is connected to the rest of EPPS. Here are my findings.

What is GIS?

GIS stands for geographic (or sometimes geospatial) information systems. Basically all those words mean it involves maps, but GIS is far from a major just about topology or cartography. GIS is a relatively new major that combines the use of map systems with technology to gather and analyze information.

Thanks to massive improvements in communications and data gathering from both technology and techniques (especially from satellites), creating maps of the world has evolved beyond showing what is where on the globe. Now we can utilize information data gathered from a variety of sources by a plethora of methods to chart, graph, label, and sort all types of maps by numerous different categories. These maps can be used to examine the interactions of people, communities, metropolises, or even nations. There are a whole lot of reasons why GIS is part of EPPS, a school dedicated to the social sciences.


With GIS, economists can map out areas of resources much more effectively. The main role of an economist is to properly manage the resources that a business or corporation takes in order to make a profit. GIS in conjunction with economics can map out areas where raw materials are and their concentrations. Going beyond just raw materials, the most favorable or efficient routes to get to and transport the raw goods can also be charted by GIS. Then areas of processing those goods and distribution of goods to warehouses, retailers, or even direct consumers are also materials that GIS can use to improve economics. Even if a business does not physically produce products, it can utilize GIS to find where their range of services can reach. For example, utility companies need to know where their power lines, pipes, cables, and fire optics are going and in what patterns to avoid unnecessary wastes and sufficient levels of supply.

Consumers themselves are affected by GIS when they get their tracking number from shipping companies when they buy online or on the phone. When consumers buy maps, GPS, or browse a map software (something Apple needs to work on...), GIS has had its hand somewhere in those matters.

Political Science and other political majors

There’s an obvious reason why politics and GIS are interrelated: borders. Before the age of accurate map creating, often there would be many disputes on where the border of a country is (and sadly some parts of the world still dispute that). Now days, simple programs can easily split up countries in a variety of ways, even down to the city limits or road systems. Political scientists are quite interested in GIS as a nation sorter to see which areas of a country have certain political views and their voting patterns. This is how voting districts are drawn in the United States, and how some political parties might use this to their advantage or their battlegrounds to win borderline districts. On a larger scale, GIS can help politicians see areas that require their attention, especially in times of crisis such as natural disasters.


Sociologists can work with GIS to chart out numerous types of sociological factors. For example if a sociologist is focusing on the homeless populations of an area, they can find where homeless people are concentrated, their travel areas, any places that support the homeless, areas that produce homeless people, and so on. More general usage of GIS could be for racial and ethnicity makeup of places, family and marriage patterns between cities, educational and employment levels, consumption levels, and many more. These can all help sociologists predict what areas could develop problems in the future.

These are but a small description on how GIS interacts and relates to the EPPS majors. I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how important GIS is as a major and might even consider taking some part in it. 

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