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What is GIS?

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Civil War Trust at Work

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is a program that allows for the easy use and understanding of geographical information, enabling the user to view and interpret a wide range and depth of data spatially while revealing important patterns and relationships. GIS is a useful tool for examining a wide variety of issues, including city planning, transportation, human health, environmental management and conservation, and cultural resources preservation.

How does it work?

GIS data are displayed as separate layers which, when viewed together, form a spatial representation in the form of a map. Data layers can be added, removed, or edited within the GIS program. GIS data generally consists of three parts: a geographical component, which displays the physical location of the data; a shape component, which describes the actual shape of the feature to be drawn; and data attributes, which are details and additional data associated with the data layer. For example, a data layer depicting a particular city would have a geographical aspect with the precise location of the city, a shape component illustrating the actual city boundaries, and additional attribute details, such as the city’s population or congressional district. GIS users can work with data on almost any scale, from local to global, and data querying allows for detailed examination of data subsets as well. It is a fast and efficient way to process what could otherwise be an overwhelming amount of detail.

How does GIS aid the Trust in battlefield preservation?

For the Civil War Trust, as well as like-minded cultural preservation groups, GIS is an invaluable tool for preserving important historical resources. GIS can be used to accomplish several different tasks:

By mapping out the location of new developments, roads, and property subdivisions, GIS can be used to identify currently undeveloped battlefield areas which are most at-risk for development or disturbance. Identification by GIS allows preservation groups to target their efforts toward saving these properties.

When a property goes on the market, GIS can be used to view the location of the property in relation to the location of the battlefield itself. By doing so, preservation groups can immediately determine if a property is worth pursuing and preserving.

GIS also allows preservation groups to identify the location of other preserved land, such as National Park Service land or land held under a private conservation easement.