GIS Mapping Resources

Map of London

Historic Map of London from the Harvard Map Collection digital collections.


The Harvard Map Collection has GIS specialists on staff who are able to provide you with free, one-on-one project support. We help:

  • find and use existing geospatial data
  • create your own geospatial data
  • learn how to use mapping technologies 
  • discuss options for how GIS best fits with your ideas

For teachers, we also make class visits, host office hours, and design learning activities related to incorporating GIS methods into course objectives or student projects.  

The easiest way to get in touch with us to is email a description of your interests to We will get back to you within 48 hours with useful resources, and ways to schedule a Zoom or in-person appointment, if applicable. 

You can read more about our services by visiting the Harvard Map Collection's Digital Mapping and GIS Support website

The Harvard Map Collection also maintains a list of tutorials for useful GIS tasks

If you are looking to make other data visualizations beyond maps, such as charts, graphs, and other ways of communicating data, you can check out the Harvard Library Visualization Support website


GIS Methods for History

It is not uncommon when working on humanities GIS projects to create your own custom data resources. There often exists a wealth of information in formats not yet compatible with GIS software, such as archival maps, government records, manuscripts, photographs, and so on. 

These sources can be transformed into digital data, using a variety of methods. Historical maps can be georeferenced, and information found within historical documents can be mined and encoded into structured data, opening those sources for analysis and visualization using GIS tools.

At the Harvard Map Collection, we act as a sounding board for how to work with your research materials for GIS purposes, and provide tips for getting started. We advise on the right tools and methods to use, and provide step-by-step guidance along the way. 


Tips for Getting Started

We recommend getting in touch with us at, because we will personalize the advice and resources we provide based on your unique interests and scholarly needs.

We have, however, prepared the following list of general tutorials and resources to become acquainted with GIS data, tools, and methods. You can work through these materials to get a good foundation, and use what you learn to inspire ideas for your own projects.

If you have any questions, need help troubleshooting the following resources, or encounter any broken links, please don't hesitate to reach out. 

Getting Started Activities

Follow this Creating Basic Maps tutorial.

Follow our census mapping tutorial series. Use what you learned to create a map of any United States county of your choice showing racial demographics at the tract level for the 2010 decennial census.  

To get a sense of the modern GIS data landscape including prevalent available data themes, as well as common data formats, browse through the public geospatial datasets on Analyze Boston, the city’s Open Data portal. 

Browse through the public geospatial datasets on MassGIS, the state’s Open Data portal. 

Check out the Atlascope app, which uses GIS technology to bring together many archival fire and real estate insurance atlases from the Boston Public Library.  

  1. Try to find out the history of a place you have been to.  
  2. Search for 4 Holbrook Avenue in Dorchester and turn on the 1899 layer. How has this area changed?
  3. Extra credit (scavenger hunt!) Make a Harvard Map Collection Reading Room Appointment and request the 1899 Richards atlas you were just exploring online. It can be valuable to compare the bound historical source atlases to the online "layers" to gain an appreciation for the GIS approaches.

Check out the different cultural and physical datasets available on Natural Earth, a website for finding cartographic or “background” layers for mapmaking.  

Follow the Point Data and Joins by Location tutorial.

Follow the Geocoding Point Data tutorial.  

Follow the Spatial Analysis tutorial.  
Tip: The Spatial Analysis tutorial uses the Census Bureau website to find census data. It’s okay to follow these steps for the sake of learning the spatial analysis methods in this tutorial, but please keep in mind we generally point researchers and students to the steps you learned in the census mapping tutorial series for working with census data ( or Social Explorer).

Pick three maps of the same area from the Harvard Libraries digital collections you would like to use use to learn georeferencing. Email with the links to your maps, and let us know you would like to follow the georeferencing tutorial advertised on this history libguide. We will respond with high-resolution versions of the maps you can use in GIS applications, as well as instructions for getting started. 

Follow this guide to building SVG maps from natural earth data.

Want more custom coding or web mapping tutorials or workshops? Let us know!