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Section Two - What is GIS?

GIS is an acronym for both Geographic Information Systems and Geographic Information Sciences, two distinct terms that integrate with each other in a very important way. GIS, as a science, falls under the umbrella of the much larger and more encompassing Geospatial Sciences, which includes other sciences such as remote sensing, GPS and GNSS technologies, cartography, geodatabase management and design, and web map development. Knowing the definition of GIS, both as a system and as a science, is important as you move through your educational journey by setting a goal and understanding of where you are going (and it helps quite a bit when you tells someone what class it is your are taking this semester!)

1.2.2: Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographic Information Systems, the more commonly used acronym, refers to the software used to& create, store, and manage spatial data, analyze spatial problems, and display the data in cartographic layouts. While ESRI’s ArcGIS suite of software is used most often in educational and government agency settings, it is far from the only or best software out there.  When talking about GIS as a suite of software, there really isn't much to say beyond the definition.  The software is just as software which, with a little practice, isn't terribly challenging to learn (it's not easy, but it's not really "hard" either).  When we talk about GIS, we are not really talking about the software -we are taking about the science and the technician's ability to make the software accomplish what they want it to do.  The real definition of GIS isn't so much the software, but the science behind the software.

Read Through This Article Looking at 30 Different GIS Software Suites

1.2.3: Geographic Information Sciences

Geographic Information Sciences, orGIScience, is the branch of the much larger geospatial sciences concerned with the underlying structure of how to collect and analyze data.  Geospatial science is really any science which collects and analyzes data that has a property of where associated with it - something we call a spatial aspect.  Data happens everywhere during every second of the day.  Every place is more than a place - it has data associated with it and that data has meaning.  Think about the place you live for a moment.  What is the first thing that pops into your mind? Maybe the color of the carpet or the peeling paint on the garage door or the people who live with you or about how your cat has his own bedroom. I'm gonna bet that the first thing you thought of was not the address or in what neighborhood you live.  Those things are not what make the place you live "yours", those are just the identifying factors about where the house is located.  The real essence of your spot is not where it is positioned on the street, but the non-spatial that makes it not just a house, but a home (cheesiness intended).

Geospatial science, as we said above is the umbrella term for any science which collects data for analysis utilizing a spatial aspect.  It includes cartography (the art of creating maps with data), remote sensing (the science of collecting data without coming in contact with the landscape), GPS (the science and skill of collecting data utilizing place located by satellite), web map applications (creating maps with the intention of distribution and interaction with a much wider community than a static printed out map will reach), database design and management (the science of organizing data for rapid retrieval), land survey (collecting very accurate data utilizing hand on equipment), photogrammetry (creating accurate maps and measurements from remotely sensed images), and the class your in right now - GIS.  In this class you will learn about how we collect and analyze data using a specific software suite, but that is just the beginning.  Almost anyone can learn to use the GIS software but only a geospatial scientist understands what is happening behind the software and can make decisions about the data in an educated manner.  You will, indeed, learn how to manipulate data in the GIS, but beyond that, you will learn how to analyze the data and really understand what is happening in the software.  Obviously, we are only going to have time to look at just a few functions of the software (as it is a huge and powerful suite), but what you learn about how the tools and data work will allow you to explore more tools and more tools and more tools ....  ArcGIS is just one of many GIS software suites, as we saw above, but when you finish this semester, you will be able to not only use ArcGIS, but because you've taken the time to really learn GIScience, you can move into any other software suite with confidence in your knowledge and skill set.