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Health, History, Participatory Mapping

This lesson plan teaches students to collaboratively input data on a Google sheet, geo-code it with latitude and longitude, and then add it into an AGOL map layer. It includes slides and handouts.

Published onSep 19, 2019
Health, History, Participatory Mapping

Session Specifics

1-2 session workshop, faculty collaboration

Instructional Partners

Data Science and Digital Scholarship Coordinator and History Professor


Undergraduate Students

Curricular Context

A professor is interested in introducing mapping as a data visualization and analysis tool to their “Human Health and Disease in U.S. History” seminar course. This is a research methods class, a requirement for the history major. Each week, the students receive a hands-on experience with different methods of historical analysis. This exercise belongs to the week dedicated to geospatial analysis. The instructor would like their students to have a session in which they map historical data and think about what the maps tell them.

The instructor has an Excel file of data points from a smallpox epidemic in Mexico and the American Southwest from the eighteenth century, including the cities and dates where smallpox appeared. The students must geolocate the cities’ coordinates and use the ArcGIS tools to enhance the visualization to help them draw conclusions about the epidemic as part of the lesson.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session, students will be able to:

  1. Conceptualize ArcGIS Online (AGOL) as an analytical and visual tool for visualizing spatial movement of disease across time.

  2. Format data and publish it to a map in order to explore historical research questions that can be addressed with this type of visualization.


Librarian and instructor go through the pre-workshop project plan used as part of digital scholarship consultation, included in Additional Instructional Materials below.


  • Desktops or laptops to access ArcGIS online

  • ArcGIS Online accounts for each participant

  • Google Sheet set-up with edit permissions for each participant

  • Pre-selected data set

  • Intro to GIS and Historical Research slides

Session Outline


  1. Create AGOL group for the class and add a map to it. (You may want to create multiple maps for students working in groups — one per group — so students are not writing over each other’s work.)

  2. Create a Google sheet with appropriate fields for your project and make sure it is editable by your participants.

  3. Publish Google sheet to the web as a CSV file. (File > Publish to web) Copy this URL onto your clipboard.

  1. In AGOL Add Layer > Layer from Web> Choose CSV file and paste URL:

  2. Make sure students have an Esri account (the parent company of ACOG) and invitations to the group you created in Step One.

In class

  1. 15-minute presentation/introduction to GIS — see Additional Instructional Materials below.

  2. Demonstration of examples.

  3. Students organized into groups to edit Google sheet collaborative (each group has a specific piece of the data/dataset to tackle).

  4. Google sheet shared and linked as a map layer in ARGOL by instructor.

  5. Students, in groups, edit attributes of each map to visualize specific variables on the data layer.

  6. Students may also choose to edit basemaps and format labels and other elements.


  • Formative assessment activity such as a One-Minute paper or a Think-Pair-Share that allows students time to reflect on the activity, what they learned, and what they found challenging.

  • Successful completion of the hands-on activities.


Recommend more than one meeting for preparation and a post-mortem meeting with the instructor to discuss what worked well and what needs improvement about the lesson.

Librarian should brief themselves on related materials for additional mapping materials for enthusiastic students who want to enhance the mapping activity with other data points.

Additional Instructional Materials


GIS & Historical Research


Digital Project Plan

Activity Instructions

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