Mase Shepherd, Community GIS student in Spring 2023
The first half of Community GIS began with a project associated with the Brooklyn Cemetery in
Athens, Georgia. Despite housing many individuals and families with generational occupancy in
Athens, this African-American cemetery, as a result of the deep south’s close ties to racism,
prejudice, and slavery, has been historically neglected. The trustees of the cemetery, called the
Friends of Brooklyn Cemetery, have been working over the years to bestow rightful dignity and
honor to their loved ones resting here by improving the cemetery’s overall state. Working in
accordance with Dr. Jerry Shannon, the Community GIS instructor, and Linda Davis, a
representative from the Friends of Brooklyn Cemetery, our class worked as a team on various
projects to fulfill goals we set to improve the cemetery, which included organizing the cemetery
into sections, laser-printing section signs, cleaning and speculating existing data of those buried
at the cemetery, locating the gravesites of individuals and families in GIS, creating physical and
online maps of the cemetery with GIS, and documenting all metadata and processes used to do
Currently underway, the second half of Community GIS involves working on an eviction
mapping project with the Athens Housing Advocacy Team (AHAT), analyzing Athens’ eviction
data to ultimately uncover eviction trends that may support local tenants, encourage future
eviction prevention programs, and advise relevant policy.
Up until the beginning of Community GIS, although I never considered myself an expert by any
means, I thought I possessed a relatively well-rounded idea of what GIS was and what it meant
to do GIS. But, as I now understand, there existed a branch of GIS methodology I had not yet
been introduced to.
I must note, Community GIS has certainly enhanced my technical GIS abilities, in addition to the
introduction of new ones. We used ArcGIS Field Maps – a phone application allowing one to
access and add data to online web maps made in ArcGIS Online – which I had not done before.
We used this tool on-site at Brooklyn Cemetery to gather point data with attribute queries for
individuals’ gravesites. We made a searchable web map for the Brooklyn Cemetery using
ArcGIS Online’s “create app” tool – a feature that can export interactive maps for public, user-
friendly use on media platforms – which I had also not done before. This app, once published on
their website, will allow Brooklyn Cemetery visitors to search for, locate, and give regards to
friends or family buried at the cemetery. With the recent initiation of our second project with
AHAT, we practiced heat mapping and point pattern analysis and aggregation mapping using
eviction data in both ArcGIS Pro and QGIS which, again, I had not done before. These few
examples represent some of the tangible GIS skills and concepts learned from class and projects,
but they do not represent my most valuable takeaway thus far.
What I value most comes from Dr. Shannon’s guidance on Community GIS theories and
methods in lecture. I never studied GIS in a social environment nor received any form of GIS
ideology or philosophy, and I never thought of the importance of such theory in a seemingly
rigid discipline that operates on numbers, statistics, and data. However, there is much more to
GIS than producing maps and models. This class urged me to think about meaning behind GIS
when working with a community, reminding me to reflect on purpose and empathize with those
involved. This sense of purpose and feeling of emotional connection through GIS resonated with
me, as empathy and emotion resonates to some extent within all of us. With the latter in mind,
we also learned that when you do GIS with or for people, you can derive and employ qualitative
data along with quantitative data, and I found weight of this new concept.
Consider rhetoric, which comprises 3 branches – ethos, pathos, and logos. Rhetoric is a powerful
tool that induces change through persuasion. Rhetoric is ingrained in science, used to observe
change, study change, relate change, change the way we think, and change what we do or how
we act upon something. I think science tends to operate on ethos and logos alone, with ethos
usually assumed as a given, and logos the reviewed, repeatable methodology that supports the
theory. These two branches of rhetoric drove all of my previous GIS studies. Contrarily,
Community GIS taught me to consider pathos when doing GIS, as well. As I mentioned, GIS can
be carried out with qualitative data, rather than just quantitative, using audio files of personal
accounts attributed to point datasets or pictures and videos from community members linked to a
map, for example, which can inspire empathy. This is significant because pathos is an equally
important third branch to rhetoric, and including it via qualitative data in GIS can strengthen
rhetoric, thus strengthening the power to change. And, when scientific methodology, data, and
GIS coalesce, this strengthened power to change can be better used to help improve the human
By Eli Vinson, Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
“I study Geography and Graphic Design; I know it’s kind of a random mix.” - A line I have used the majority of my time at UGA when introducing myself, until this year. For a long time, I failed to realize that two of my biggest interests were far more intertwined than I had thought.
This semester I took a class called Community GIS where I actively learned real-world applications for GIS concepts and methods. One of these concepts was ‘qualitiative’ GIS. Qualitative GIS incorporates non-quantitative data into GIS in an effort to give perspective and narrative to a research topic. A great example of qualitative GIS that the class was first introduced to was a project by Meghan Kelly (2019) titled, “Mapping Syrian Refugee Border Crossings: A Feminist Approach.”
In her project, Kelly wanted to provide a fuller representation of Syrian peoples’ border experiences using cartography, as opposed to Western media’s cartographic practices that aggregated refugees into flow lines, proportional symbols, and frequently simplified border experiences into homogenous, black line symbols. Kelly wanted to discover both how can the cartographic portrayal of Syrian border experiences be improved to more fully represent their lived experiences and further, how can a feminist perspective inform an alternative mapping of borders and border experiences. Kelly states, “Through a feminist lens, I have developed an alternative mapping technique that emphasizes borders as a theoretical and conceptual advancement in cartographic design and border symbolization.” At this point, while reading through Kelly’s methods, I began to recognize the deeper relationship held between Geography and Graphic Design. By projecting Syrian stories and experiences through cartography, Kelly’s qualitative GIS work gives Syrians a geographic voice unavailable to them through conventional cartographies.
Up until this reading, I viewed design within geography/cartography as nothing more than functional, with little room for creativity. The kind of formulaic and simple, generalized designs that I had attributed to the whole of research-based cartography, did very little to grab my interest. I knew there could be aesthetically pleasing or thoughtful and uniquely designed maps, but I thought the only place for these designs would be on the wall above your couch rather than in a serious research paper.
Kelly’s cartographic design wanted to give a fuller and unique value to borders. Kelly describes that, typically, cartographers place borders near the bottom of the visual hierarchy, receding into the background as part of the base map or reference material. The designs for borders typically default to thin, solid black lines and symbolize them homogeneously. These design choices remove the true image of a border including individual experiences, such as the danger and legal issues involved with crossing borders.
To achieve a more robust symbolization of borders and to move towards qualitative/narrative GIS, Kelly presents a design technique that aggregates the border experiences of seven Syrian interviewees. After immersing herself in the stories of each experience, Kelly used ArcMap to create the design that served to symbolize a truthful and emotional depiction of the stories. Kelly defined spaces and borders abstractly by bounding them with an abstract square shape that could be easily applied to a variety of non-traditional borders found in Syria. Kelly describes that this design choice enabled her to bring both non-traditional space and non-traditional borders, such as the human body, into the maps.
The most interesting design choices to me were that each border in the map is symbolized according to the intensity of individual experiences and the border’s passibility. A line of a border increases in size if the emotional toll of the experience increases and becomes thinner if the experience is understated or minimal. To distinguish her own voice and to elevate the voice of the interviewee, Kelly utilized different typographic choices. The interviewee’s voice was identified in a black, sans serif typeface called Myriad Pro, while Kelly’s voice was written in a gray, serif typeface named Garamond. I think the color and individual typefaces place each voice at different volumes and formalities, (Serif = more formal, gray = lower volume, black = higher volume/more importance).
Discovering this combination of Graphic Design and Geography and recognizing their importance to each other in creating a meaningful research project was very impactful for me. I now have an entirely new thought process in creating maps moving forward where I will utilize my design experience and creativity more so than following a general map template. I hope that any geographers reading this will consider a creative and thoughtful approach to their map designs in the future as well in order to help create more engaging and impactful maps.