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VU Department of Geography and Meteorology
Cartography and Geographic Information Systems Concentration

An Overview
Maps have always been essential to geography. In fact, a popular adage holds that "if you can't map it, it's not geography." Outside geography, additional millions of people use maps in thousands of fields. Generating maps and storing map-related information through the use of computers has emerged as geography's fastest growth area in recent years. Geographic information systems are at the heart of this growth. In this concentration, you will learn the history, skills, techniques, and applications of some of geography's most powerful and exciting tools.

Cartography in its most basic sense is map making, and cartographers continue to generate maps of all sorts for a variety of industries. Increasingly, these maps are computer generated, making use of advanced graphic software. The U.S. government continues to hire cartographers for several of its agencies, namely the U.S. Geological Survey, the Census Bureau, and the Defense Mapping Agency. The private sector, too, employs cartographers for the production of a wide range of maps and atlases.

Remote sensing involves the interpretation and analysis of aerial photographs and a growing body of satellite imagery. Especially when grounded in a firm understanding of earth science (physical geography, geology, and biology), remote sensing analysis provides rapid and accurate information on vegetation, soils, erosion, tectonics, transportation, and land use. Due to the widespread use of remotely sensed images in small-scale mapping, there is a natural overlap with cartography.

Geographic information systems (or GIS) are perhaps the newest and most revolutionary tools available to the geographer. Put simply, a GIS is a computer application that combines an information database with mapping capability, allowing for the storage, display, analysis, and printing of spatial information. With a GIS, the geographer can view and compare various data layers (demography, economics, ethnicity, soils, vegetation, hydrology, highways, etc.) with spatial references, finding, for instance, suitable locations for landfills or businesses. GIS, rather than being a subfield of geography itself, finds application across the discipline, with heavy use in environmental management, land use planning, business geography, medical geography, and urban geography. Even cultural and political geographers are finding GIS valuable in their work.

Geography Courses

    Both of the following:

    • GEO 101: World Human Geography
    • GEO 104: Geomorphology

    Two of the following:

    • GEO 215: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
    • GEO 225: Cartography
    • GEO 230: Remote Sensing
    • GEO 210: Current Themes in Geography (when appropriate)

    Four of the following:

    • GEO 321: Urban and Regional Planning
    • GEO 360: Statistical Analysis in Geography
    • GEO 361: Research Design (when appropriate)
    • GEO 415: Advanced Geographic Information Systems
    • GEO 486: Internship in Geography
    • GEO 490: Selected Topics in Geography (when appropriate)
    • GEO 495: Independent Study


    • GEO 201: Economic Geography
    • GEO 260: Environmental Conservation
    • GEO 320: Urban Geography
    • GEO 466: Profession of Geography

    Recommended Complementary Courses

    • CE 151: Construction Surveying
    • CS 335: Database Management Systems*
    • MATH 240: Statistical Analysis*
    • MATH 320: Mathematical Models in the Life and Social Sciences*
    • MATH 340: Statistics for Decision Making*
    • *See course catalog for prerequisites.

Minors/Second Majors
Students selecting this concentration should consider a minor or second major in mathematics, computer science, or physics.

Career Fields
This concentration is intended for students interested in graduate work or employment in GIS, remote sensing, cartography, environmental impact assessment, land use analysis, surveying, or with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Census Bureau, or the National Park Service.

More Information
For more information on careers in geography and on internships, visit the home page of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) and follow the Careers link.

  If you have any questions about this concentration please contact Prof. Jon T. Kilpinen.


ValpoAdditions and corrections for this page may be directed to Mike Longan
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This page was last updated September 24, 2004