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 *See course catalog for prerequisites.

Both of the following:

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

All of following:

  • GEO 215: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
  • GEO 225: Digital Cartography and GPS
  • GEO 230: Remote Sensing

Four of the following:

  • GEO 321: Urban and Regional Planning
  • GEO 415: Advanced Geographic Information Systems
  • GEO 430. Advanced Remote Sensing
  • GEO 460: Data Analysis
  • GEO 486: Internship in Geography
  • GEO 490: Selected Topics in Geography (when appropriate)
  • GEO 492 Research in Geography.
  • GEO 495: Independent Study


  • GEO 201: Economic Geography
  • GEO 210: Current Themes in Geography (when appropriate)
  • GEO 260: Environmental Conservation
  • GEO 285. Natural Hazards
  • GEO 320: Urban Geography
  • GEO 404: Advanced Geomorphology
  • GEO 420: Rural Geography
  • GEO 365: Biogeography

Recommended Complementary Courses

  • ART 132. Introduction to Design and Digital Media
  • ART 230. Desktop Publishing.
  • ART 231. Graphic Design I.
  • ART 232. Graphic Design II: Advanced Problems.
  • CE 151: Introduction to Computer-Aided Drafting*
  • CS 128: Introduction to Programming*
  • CS 156: Fundamentals of Programming*
  • CS 157: Algorithms and Programming*
  • CS 257: Data Structures and Programming*
  • CS 332: Databases and Artificial Intelligence*
  • MATH 240: Statistical Analysis*
  • MATH 320: Dynamical Systems.*
  • MATH 340: Statistics for Decision Making*

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.

Updated May 2012