Making maps

The Map Room provides guidance, advice and help in digital mapmaking and analysing spatial data using geographic information systems (GIS) software. GIS is used for storing, querying, processing, analysing, and visualising geographic data. It combines elements of a graphic editor such as Photoshop and database management software such as Excel.  

Some examples of GIS applications are below. 


  • find and display aerial satellite imagery
  • compare imagery temporally
  • use remote sensing techniques to classify and analyse changes in composition across the landscape


  • find patterns within geospatial datasets using analysis tools
  • calculate areas or distances, or complex calculations such as line of sight and viewshed analysis
  • find optimal locations and evaluate multiple datasets across multiple criteria


  • create and design effective maps for publications and reports
  • combine your own datasets with a geographic location such as northings/eastings or lat./long. with open data to create informative maps
  • use a variety of available basemaps such as topographic, aerial imagery and historic mapping to enhance the visualisation and context of the maps.


  • plan and carry out fieldwork using GPS-enabled mobile mapping
  • plan survey data with tailored styling and dropdowns to save time in the field
  • use specialised survey equipment


  • make data more accessible and share data using GIS web maps and publish map services  
  • combine with non-geospatial data and with geographic data to create interactive dashboards
  • create bespoke web maps and applications with JavaScript APIs
  • create 3D maps, models and fly-throughs
  • build and analyse height datasets such as LiDAR, Digital Surface and Terrain Models


  • automate manual processes by building models to repeat tasks
  • use scripting languages such as Python to make processes more efficient 


The Map Room is unable to fulfil consultation requests at present as the relevant post is vacant. Whilst we cannot offer this service ourselves, we can recommend a private specialist, our former colleague Michael Athanson (, who can carry out this work but would charge for his services.

Software and training materials

We support two GIS software packages: ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop and Online products and the open-source alternative Quantum GIS (QGIS).

There are many online tutorials and videos which support GIS use. We will be pleased to point you in the right direction of which GIS product and tutorial will be best for your project. See below for a summary of the most common GIS tools. 

We can also help support other GIS-based software or products such as Story Maps, Collector for ArcGIS, FME and MapInfo. See the additional software section for further information.

ArcGIS Pro

A newer version of ESRI’s desktop software with a modernised interface, built-in 3D viewer and easier ways to share data with ArcGIS Online (see below). ArcGIS Pro will be available from IT shortly in the ArcGIS bundle. It is possible to download a free trial from ESRI’s website.


An open-source desktop GIS used for creating, editing, visualising, analysing and publishing geospatial information. It is part of the OSGeo project and can be used in conjunction with other open-source geospatial products.

ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online is a completely web-based GIS useful for viewing, sharing and editing data. There is an increasing amount of published open GIS data that can be added quickly into the online map platform and some spatial analysis can be run on the fly.

Requires an ArcGIS Online account, available as a University account or free personal account with limited credits. 

Accessing software  

Access software at the University

The Bodleian Libraries have ArcGIS Desktop installations on reader machines in the Social Science Library and in the Centre for Digital Scholarship at the Weston Library. You will be able to log into these machines using your Bodleian Libraries username and password. Email for guidance on how to access the room.  

Many departments (e.g. Geography, Archaeology, Continuing Education, Earth Sciences, and others) also have installations in their computer labs.

Access software at home

Any current member of the University of Oxford is eligible for an ArcGIS licence for their own machine which can be found at the IT Services online shop. Academic visitors may be able to obtain ArcGIS through their home institutions. ArcGIS for Home Use is also an affordable option for non-commercial purposes. QGIS is another alternative – it's free for anyone.

Other useful GIS software

We are happy to advise on any of the below GIS products.


This software can process a large volume of complex datasets quickly as well as being able to convert between different data formats with ease. Licenses are free for students and researchers.


An open-source application used to convert and translate geographic data.

ESRI Survey applications

ArcGIS Collector and Survey 123 are both useful tools for survey collection. Using a phone or tablet with an integrated GPS, these can be tailored for specific surveys with different layer styling, draw tools and prepared dropdowns and notes to speed up data collection.

ESRI’s Story Maps and Web App Builder

Story Maps provide a great way to visualise web maps in a presentation style manner – there are various types that can be chosen and many examples in the gallery. ESRI’s web app builder also provides various Web App templates to quickly created application using data from ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Portal web maps.

Geospatial servers and databases

These enable geospatial data to be stored and published as web map services. GeoServer or ArcGIS Server/ArcGIS Enterprise are examples of GIS server infrastructure.


PostGIS extends the open-source relational database PostgresSQL, and provides ways of efficiently storing and running SQL location queries on large volumes of spatial data.

Web Mapping JavaScript Libraries – there are a range of web mapping JavaScript libraries to create bespoke web maps and to manipulate published web mapping and feature services. Examples include Leaflet.js, three.js Openlayers.js, MapBox.js and ESRI JavaScript API.


The Map Room offers limited legacy support for MapInfo Professional users. This desktop GIS software itself is no longer available through the university. The following resources will continue to be made available here, but will no longer be updated: