In the 18th century French Cartographer Louis-Alexandre Berthier used a map with hinged overlays to demonstrate the movements of troops at the Battle of Yorktown. Later, In 1854 John Snow created a graphical depiction of a cholera outbreak in London. These were quite possibly some of the earliest uses of the geographic method, and a precursor to today’s geographic information systems. A geographic information system (GIS) is defined as “a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographically referenced data.” A GIS can be looked at as a synthesis of cartography, statistics, and database technology. GIS technologies are used broadly in a variety of disciplines, including archaeology, urban planning, criminology, and epidemiology. Their practical applications are innumerable. They allow emergency planners to calculate and monitor disaster response times, give scientist the tools they need to track epidemic diseases, and provide market data to entrepreneurs seeking out ideal locations for their businesses.
With GIS technologies playing such an important role in so many parts of our lives, it’s no wonder GIS Day has been celebrated for over a decade. The first GIS Day was observed in 1998, with a goal to “provide and international forum for users of GIS technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.” Since then, GIS Day has been celebrated in more than 80 countries, with participants taking part in local events such as workshops, school assemblies, geography bees, and community expos. GIS Day is always held on the Wednesday during Geography Awareness Week, an initiative sponsored by the National Geographic Society to promote geographic literacy. The day itself is sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the United States Geological Survey, The Library of Congress, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Esri.