NCGIA Core Curriculum in Geographic Information Science

URL: ""

Unit 002 - What is Geographic Information Science?

by Michael F. Goodchild, University of California Santa Barbara

This unit is part of the NCGIA Core Curriculum in Geographic Information Science. These materials may be used for study, research, and education, but please credit the author, Michael F. Goodchild, and the project, NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIScience. All commercial rights reserved. Copyright 1997 by Michael F. Goodchild.

Your comments on these materials are welcome. A link to an evaluation form is provided at the end of this document.

Advanced Organizer

Topics covered in this unit

Learning Outcomes

Full Table of Contents

Instructors' Notes

Metadata and Revision History

What is Geographic Information Science?

1. Opening definitions

1.1. Geographic information

1.2. Digital geographic information

1.3. Geographic information technologies

1.3.1. Global Positioning System (GPS)

1.3.2. Remote sensing

1.3.3. Geographic information system (GIS)

2. What is GIS?

2.1. What does a GIS look like?  How would I know one if I saw one?

2.2. What is GIS used for?

2.2.1. Utility companies

2.2.2. Transportation

2.2.3. Farmers

2.2.4. Forestry

3. Systems, science and studies

4. Geographic information science (finally!)

4.1. The big questions of GIScience

4.2. The disciplines of GIScience

4.3. How do I find out more about GIS and GIScience?

5. Summary

6. Review and study questions

  1. What do 'geographic' and 'spatial' mean, and why is the term 'geospatial' popular?

  3. Identify any traditional disciplines missing from the lists given in the unit and explain their relationship to GIScience.

  5. Explain why geographic information science should or should not be a distinct discipline:
  6. Cartography was identified as both a science and an art; why is this, and why were other disciplines not similarly identified?

  8. It is tempting to think of a GIS as a computer containing maps but is that not like talking about the automobile as a horseless carriage?  Explain why this vision is limiting.

7. References

7.1. Print references

7.1.1. Cited references

7.1.2. Basic and practical introductions to GIS

John C. Antenucci and others (1991) Geographic Information Systems: A Guide to the Technology. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Tor Bernhardsen (1992) Geographic Information Systems. Arendal, Norway: Viak (but widely available in the US).

Keith C. Clarke (1997) Getting Started with Geographic Information Systems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Michael N. DeMers (1997) Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems. New York: J. Wiley & Sons.

7.1.3. GIS magazines

7.2. Web references


We are very interested in your comments and suggestions for improving this material.  Please follow the link above to the evaluation form if you would like to contribute in this manner to this evolving project..


To reference this material use the appropriate variation of the following format:

The correct URL for this page is:
Created: July 24, 1997.  Last revised: October 7, 1997.

Gateway to the Core Curriculum