I relied heavily on QGIS for our class project about the Albuquerque Sunport. I wanted to document the way that the airport facilitated travel around the nation. For an explanation of my method, click here.
My data tables were csv (comma separated value) files; luckily, QGIS has a separate option for turning this kind of spreadsheet into a vector layer. To input my data, I had to tell QGIS what exactly it was seeing.
QGIS doesn't automatically know that some fields contain names and some contain locational data; you've got to be pretty specific. Once I input the data for Continental Airlines in 1935, I figured I'd contrast it with TWA data from the same year.
The resulting map isn't exactly scintillating. My data tables contained lat/long data for cities, which explains the presence of many dots.
These dots need context. I chose to add a raster layer of the United States; I chose a Stamen layer that I find particularly attractive. Plus, the black and white allows me to choose freely between different dot colors.
Okay, now we've got dots. Lots of them. I've assigned each airline a different color, so we can already see the cruciform pattern emerging: TWA on the east/west axis, Continental on the north/south. If I put in a little bit of work adding gradations to my data, the map can be even more expressive. Neat QGIS trick: when you set styles for one data set, you can save the style and apply it to other data. This comes in handy when you want to compare two sets of data using the same metrics. For this particular exercise, I chose to style the time data so I can see temporal distance more clearly.
Once I apply the same styling to both layers, I can see a more complete picture of travel to and from Albuquerque. The darker the color, the longer the flight time.
The above example represents what I did for this semester's class project. Out of all the methods that I tried during the last four months, I can tell that QGIS will stick with me for a while. Whenever I read a new historical monograph, I evaluate its maps. I also question where the heck the maps came from. Graduate student? Map-savvy silent partner? The internet? I've always envisioned myself making maps--simple maps-- to complement articles or longer-form pieces. I was never really able to master QGIS's print exporter, but I was able to take screenshots with basically the same results. I even learned how to add titles, legends, and data tables to my finished products.
My research about Yosemite presents some interesting challenges to my QGIS knowledge. For one, I'm only experienced with large-scale raster layers (aka maps of the nation). Yosemite as a whole has lots of different locales to map as distinct entities--dots, if you will. Yosemite Valley, however, is a very narrowly defined geographic area about seven miles wide and one mile across (if that). I'll have to improve my QGIS skills so that I can make line segments--roads, trails, and the contours of Yosemite Valley. At a basic level, though, I now have the tools to make my own maps and display my own data. Pretty powerful stuff.