So far in this workshop we have focused on the individual steps of mapmaking, whether that means creating a map of points or manipulating spatial data. One of the challenges in creating maps, however, is working through an entire project, from the idea and the source base to the finished map as a class project or publication. The aim of this session to actually work through all of the steps of a real class or research project to gain some experience in seeing a project through all its phases.

Creating such project involves thinking through at least these steps:

  1. What kind of mapmaking or spatial project would be a significant contribution to my course or my field?
  2. What sources are available for such a project?
  3. How can I extract/create place information from those sources?
  4. How should my data be structured?
  5. How can I connect the information extracted from the sources to spatial data? What spatial data do I need?
  6. What kind of map is most suitable for my data?
  7. How should that map be published/publicized?
  8. What kind of interpretative framework should I provide with the map?
  9. How will I know if this mapping project was a success? What do I hope to learn?


The following guides may be helpful in in working through such a project.

It is important to think through how your data will be structured. While the details of what kind of data you record will depend on the sources and the map you hope to make, there is a common pattern to well-structured data. Hadley Wickham explain this structure in his paper on “Tidy Data.”1

Georeferencing is the process of turning place names or addresses into latitudes and longitudes. You can do this with CartoDB, as explained in this tutorial.

You may have the need to create vector data in QGIS, as explained here.

Potential projects

Based on the interests of workshop participants, we will work in groups on one or more of the following projects. And if workshop participants have their own data and questions, we can start one of those projects.

  • Her Hat Was in the Ring is a database of women in the United States who ran for office before women received the franchise. The database classifies candidates by state, but also contains notes about the specific places where women ran for office.

  • The Paulist Fathers were a Catholic missionary order who preached missions around the United States. They kept manuscript records of where and when they preached, as well as how many people came to confession or were converted.

The record of a mission preached by the Paulist Fathers in 1859 at Princeton, New Jersey, with 570 attendees.

The record of a mission preached by the Paulist Fathers in 1859 at Princeton, New Jersey, with 570 attendees.

  • A New Nation Votes is a compilation of election returns from the early American republic, including both local, state, and federal elections.

  • The WPA former slave narratives frequently mention places. The narratives are organized by the place that the interviews happened, but the interviewees frequently lived and mentioned other places.

  1. Hadley Wickham, “Tidy Data,” The Journal of Statistical Software 59, no. 10 (2014).