Intro to ArcGIS


ArcGIS is the industry standard GIS software package and is produced by Esri (formerly ESRI, or Environmental Systems Research Institute). It is a Windows-only suite of programs:

  • ArcMap: for making maps and conducting analyses
  • ArcCatalog: for organizing data and metadata, similar to "My Computer" on a Windows PC
  • ArcScene: incorporates 3D visualizations of terrain into maps
  • ArcGlobe: for 3D visualizations of very large raster or vector data sets

ArcGIS lets you analyze data sets in relation to each other, spatially. For example:

Where is the best location in the Northeast US for a new power plant?
How will projected climate change affect the range of the Mink Toad?
Which zip codes in Brooklyn are the most toxic (i.e., most SuperFund sites)?

Alternatives to ArcGIS

ArcGIS is expensive and not intended for casual use, nor is it available from off-campus. Other GIS applications may be more appropriate for your project:

  • Google Fusion Tables - Heat maps and other visualization tools, for working with your own uploaded data
  • QGIS - Quantum GIS is an open source GIS project that runs on both Windows and Mac
  • Many Eyes - Data visualization site allows you to upload and map data from countries and US counties. Requires free registration.
  • GeoCommons - Versatile option for distributing, mapping, and some analysis of spatial data.
  • Tableau Public - Quickly build interactive maps based on states, counties, ZIP codes or countries.
  • WorldMap - Open source system from Harvard for creating maps, uploading and downloading shapefiles and KMLs
  • R Maptools - For users of the statistical programming language R, this package can draw simple maps.

Intro to ArcGIS class materials

Where can I use ArcGIS?

This is a guide to using ArcGIS 10.1 Desktop, which is available on all workstations in the Graduate Center Library. From the Start menu, choose "All Programs" then navigate to ArcMap.

For off-campus access to ArcGIS, log in to Citrix. You'll find ArcGIS in the Statistics folder.

Also, ArcExplorer, a less versatile version of the software, is available for free download.

Alternatively, QGIS is a free, open source GIS platform that can be downloaded and used at home.