Mapping resources

Consult with the pros

We are really fortunate at UCLA to have on staff some wonderful GIS consultants who are able to help you with complex mapping questions. They also understand digital humanities and are wonderful teachers. You can get in touch with them via this page.


You may find that you need to geocode addresses more precisely than Tableau allows, or perhaps you don’t want to use Tableau. If you only have a handful of addresses, you can Google them and grab the coordinates that way. If you have more than a few, you’ll want to use a batch geocoding service. Many geocoders are either not free or require you to obtain various kinds of access tokens. However, this geocoder is free and seems to be working well. Note that it requires you to supply your data in a particular format.

WMS Servers

US Census Data

Stanford University Map Collection (many have WMSs available; search for “Rumsey” to find historic maps)

NYPL Maps (click on a map and then “Export” to view the WMS URL)

Other mapping tools

Tableau is good at displaying points, shapes, and data layers. However, you may find that you want to create a different kind of map, or you just don’t like Tableau. Here are some other options.

ESRI Story Maps

Story Maps allow the user to walk through each point step by step, accompanied by narrative or other media. A great choice if you don’t have a ton of points and want the focus to be on the story you’re telling.

StoryMap JS

Confusingly enough, StoryMap JS is different from Story Maps! With this tool, you place your points on a map, and a user clicks through them in order to reveal a story.


Much like Tableau, the web-based platform Carto allows you to place your points on a map, switch out basemaps, and combine data layers. The main difference is that Carto also allows you to surround your map with “widgets”: graphs and lists that allow the user to dynamically filter your data. (Here’s an example.) I like Carto a lot and have taught it in previous years. However, Carto has changed its pricing scheme so that the only way to obtain free access is through the GitHub Student Developer Pack. This means that GitHub has to verify your student status; then, after you connect your GitHub account to Carto, you’ll be offered two free years of access. This is definitely do-able but may take a few days.


Flourish is a fairly new web-based platform for data visualization and mapping. Designed with journalists in mind, it has some really nice features, such as step-through interactive maps, animation, and customizable point markers. You also may find its user interface less complex than Tableau. It’s free for academic use, on the condition that all your work and data are public.


“Serious” GIS people usually use ArcGIS or its free alternative, QGIS. Both of these products are very powerful, but the learning curve is a bit steeper. You can download QGIS for free, and this tutorial is an excellent starting point.