Skip to main content



Hurst Hall Room 202

Mon - Thur: 9:30 am - 8:30 pm
Fri: 9:30 am - 7 pm
Sat: Noon - 7 pm
Sun: Closed

4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016

GIS & Mapping

GIS SoftwareCollegial Networking | GIS Data

What is GIS?

A geographic information system (GIS) is made up of computer models or "maps" and the tools that are designed to analyze them. With a GIS, you can view and analyze a map by studying its different "layers". In the “old times” you could do this with transparencies, by stacking transparencies together (1 layer = 1 transparency). Today, each transparency is replaced by a digital layer and you can superimpose these layers as you wish, using GIS software. GIS thus allows you to study relationships between different layers and detect relationships between different variables. Although transparencies were great for their time, GIS can do so much more. For example, with the help of GIS, you can create dynamic maps that show change over time, you can calculate the shortest path in between points, and you can create predictive models. GIS has been used in many industries for decision-making and policy formulation. It has been prominent in the environmental and agricultural sector (how does climate change affect crops?), but has recently flourished in the business sector (where to open a new bakery?) and is rapidly expanding into new sectors such as conflict management (crisis mapping). Many organizations such as the World Bank, the World Resources Institute, and the US State Department use GIS for analysis and policy design.

GIS Software

RSG supports ArcGIS and Google Earth, two of the most popular GIS programs on the market. We can also assist you with spatial analysis using other programs such as STATA, ArcGIS and Google Earth. Please attend our workshops or contact RSG to schedule a one-on-one tutorial, which can be customized to your research needs. RSG trainers can also visit your class to lead an in-class introduction tutorial for students. To request fill out an in-class tutorial form.

In addition ArcGIS is available to all members of the campus community through our Virtual Computing Lab. More training materials can be found here.


Collegial Networking: GIS User Group

RSG organizes a group of AU faculty who have an interest in and/or experience using GIS and who want to share their knowledge. This group will occasionally meet to brainstorm events, identify needs, discuss their research projects and create resources to enhance GIS scholarship at AU. If you are interested in joining, please email

GIS data

Note: Some of the sites will ask you to register/create an account, but the download of data is free.

·  Geocommunity: World data: boundaries, roads, cities, etc.
·  National Atlas: US data on several topics
·  ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset): conflict data - location, data, factions, source of information for many countries; in Excel and shapefile format
·  Daymet: climate data
· US maps and data on various topics
·  US Census: US Census shapefiles, which include geographic entity codes that work with census data found on American FactFinder
·  American FactFinder (work with US Census files): US demographic and economic data
· (descriptions in German): various kind of data
·  Free GIS Datasets: physical geography, human geography and individual country/area datasets
·  Aquastat: global map of irrigation areas
·  AU (computer science department) GIS page: offers links to data, some of which are listed above

CTRL Lab Info

Fall & Spring Hours:
Mon - Thur: 9:30 am - 8:30 pm
Fri: 9:30 am - 7 pm
Sat: 12 pm - 7 pm
Sun: Closed

Summer & Winter Break Hours:
Mon - Fri: 9:30 am - 5:30 pm
Sat - Sun: Closed

Hurst Hall, Room 202

More Info

Contact a Consultant

For help with CTRL supported activities, visit the lab during business hours, call 202-885-3862, email For people who are traveling, we can arrange for support via Skype - contact us for more information.

Chat with a Consultant

JavaScript disabled or chat unavailable.