Written by on May 7, 2015

Using GIS to look at San Luis Obispo’s history

The Data Studio welcomed David Yun, Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences (NRES) lecturer and Geographic Information Services Supervisor for the City of San Luis Obispo, on Thursday, April 30. Yun talked about managing historical data about San Luis Obispo using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In his talk, he highlighted the work that his Cal Poly students have done for the city, and explained the process of scanning historic maps and documents using GIS tools. This method has provided new ways to visualize and connect to information from the past.

The process of making maps available

Yun started off his talk by identifying a major problem with maps and historical documents: they are locked away in filing cabinets, inaccessible to most people. In addition to the maps being inaccessible, it’s often very hard to find the information you’re looking for.

“What good is information if no one uses it?” Yun asked.

Yun has a better way to store historical documents and maps using GIS software. In this process, the maps are scanned, GIS layers are created and then saved with location tags. So, if you want to look up maps for a particular location, all you have to do is search that location and the relevant maps come up. This process can be used to digitize any type of map or historical document. Yun teaches this process to his students, and then gives them real world projects to apply what they’ve learned.

Comparing historical SLO to the present

In a side by side comparison, we’re able to look at San Luis Obispo maps from 1905, 1950 and 2014 using GIS. Troy Lawson (who started off as Yun’s intern, then went on to be his student and teaching assistant) geo-referenced historical Sanborn maps to analyze the city’s history for his senior project, presenting his work through the city’s GIS and mapping website.

Yun’s other students have also provided GIS data and maps for the city. For example, one student mapped out and created a record of all the surveys taken in SLO. In total, there were about 2,000.

David Yun pictured above with Jeanine Scaramozzino, College of Science & Mathematics, School of Education, and Data & GIS Services Librarian. Learn more about Data Studio Presents.

Read more on data studio, data studio presents, and gis.

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