Studying Geographical Information Science (GIS) as Part of a Liberal Arts Degree Program

GIS data office worker looking at screens

What is Geographic Information Science (GIS)? Using specialized computer systems, appropriately referred to as geographic information systems, today’s geographers and cartographers are finding themselves filling highly technical roles. Conducting geographic data analysis, these days anybody who studies geography in a modern context is more likely to become a GIS specialist using advanced software to analyze geospatial data than a geographer in any traditional sense.

Using geographic information systems, GIS specialists draw unique insights from geospatial data gathered from satellite images in order to map and create visual models of specific geographic features and events. The applications of geospatial analysis are almost limitless, putting the technology at the forefront of some of the most important investigations and discoveries in everything from oceanography, hydrology and climate science to agriculture, infrastructure and engineering projects.

Whether tracking deforestation, retreating glaciers, and expanding flood zones around the globe or gaining a deeper perspective on wildfires, draught patterns and the availability of water in the distant reservoirs that supply the major metros of the Western U.S., geographic information science is changing the way we see and interact with the world and its resources.

Studying Geographic Information Science as Part of a Broader Liberal Arts Curriculum

GIS allows you to take almost any type of geospatial data and organize them in relation to any location, making it relevant to industries ranging from agriculture to utilities to mining and extraction, and to environmental and earth sciences including climatology, forestry, hydrology and a whole lot more.

Studying geographic information science in the context of a liberal arts degree will allow you to go places that you’ve never imagined. You will study the maps of the past, assessing the motivations behind human migrations, and how those movement influenced politics and the development of cultures around the globe. You’ll study the relationships between human cultures and the geography of the present, gaining a greater understanding for how land and resources influence today’s economies, cultures, and conflicts.

Studying GIS in the context of a liberal arts degree will allow you to learn a lot about one topic. Moreover, it will help you understand how geography influences all aspects of what makes us human.

In the Liberal Arts, Geographic information Science Intersects with International Relations in Unexpected Ways

It’s no secret that our world today is more interconnected than even before. Our nations rely on one another for resources, and we now have a global supply chain that is both revolutionary and delicate.

Studying international relations within your liberal arts program allows you to look at the ways ideologies spread across the globe, and how those ideologies influence people, cultures, and ultimately, policies and actions. Layered in with geographic information science, you will get a unique perspective on everything from resource availability to the oceanic transport routes that global commerce and supply chains rely on, giving you a deeper understanding of the factors that influence global relations and conflict.

When earning your liberal arts degree, you’ll have many opportunities to learn about how globalization influences domestic and international economics and politics. In a course about globalization and the modern world, you’ll get to understand how the past influences the present by mapping the key events and policies that have allowed people to ship and share their resources around the globe. How have pandemics of the past and the present moved across the world—and shaped the world’s literature and art as a result?

Courses in geographic information science offer a unique perspective on all this and more.

GIS Courses in a Liberal Studies Program Offer a Unique Perspective on Environmental and Earth Sciences

Young farmer using tablet in the fieldsMapping the world isn’t just the work of the great explorers out of antiquity. It’s a dynamic and necessary practice in the age of global commerce and at a time when we’re looking to address the many pressing issues related to climate change.

Studying GIS as part of a liberal arts program allows you to see how the science of geographic information intersects with environmental science and sustainability…

A course exploring animal migrations across the globe could have you tracking the migratory patterns of butterflies between New England and Mexico—an astonishing feat in the animal kingdom, and nearly as astonishing that we have refined technology to track, view, and understand these patterns.

A course on food and bioenergy systems might have you coming up with new practical, data-driven ways to start more gardens in cities and feed the urban populace.

Studying geographic information science as part of a broader liberal arts curriculum will make you more adept at analyzing how one event leads to another, and how seemingly small and inconsequential changes in the environment can have sizable impacts. It will give you the perspective you need to ask the big questions and contribute to solving the world’s most pressing issues related to the climate crisis and more.

You will also gain a unique understanding of the earth sciences independent of any man-made environmental impact, looking at how the earth’s natural systems, in turn, impact the people of the planet. Analyzing geospatial data around Yellowstone National Park, for example, would give you the chance to better understand how shifting geologic formations and geysers help predict earthquakes.  

How Geographic Information Science Intersects with Political Science in a Liberal Studies Program

Liberal arts students quickly become well-versed in the art of asking tough questions— the questions that will help us address problems that are within our scope to fix, and adapt to the changes we are incapable of reversing.

Studying the liberal arts helps you become a problem-solver, and by incorporating an exploration into geographic information systems, you’ll have one more perspective to work with in coming up with creative solutions to the biggest problems being wrestled with in the field of political science.

Geographic information science offers a unique perspective on the borders and boundaries of nation states that overlay natural geography, allowing us to explore local and geopolitical questions like …

You may even use geographic information as a way to gather information from history. In a class about the rise of the modern nation-state, you may learn from a government professor how political movements spread across Europe before making their way to the United States—and you may be able to use technology to map that spread visually over time.

You’re probably studying liberal arts because you love studying humanity. You’re curious about the modes of study that humans have invented just as much as the natural phenomena that have steered and influenced the invention of these studies—biology, sociology, anthropology, economics…

Nothing has been more influential, perhaps, to the development of humanity and the discovery of truth than the space that humans occupy. Studying GIS within the context of a liberal arts degree allows you to look at how our physical surroundings, diverse landscapes, and even the way we choose to condense or distribute ourselves across those landscapes, all shape the way that we think, act, and learn.