Step-by-step tutorials for working on mapping projects using GIS methods and software.

View the Project on GitHub HarvardMapCollection/tutorials

How to Search for Local Boundary Files

To make maps, you often need to find cartographic data such as:

Some sites like Natural Earth provide a great one-stop-shop for global cartographic data of this kind.

Sometimes, however, you need more granular, place-specific cartographic data. In this tutorial we will conduct a search for the outlines or boundaries of towns in the state of Massachusetts.

Searching for data example

  1. In a search engine, type in “Massachusetts + GIS + data”.

    A great way to start searching for data is to find open government GIS portals.

  2. Your results should bring you to MassGIS (Bureau of Geographic Information). Visit this site.

  3. Click Download MassGIS Data. Screenshot of MassGIS landing page

  4. In the search bar, enter “Towns”.

  5. Click the first result, MassGIS Data: Municipalities.

    We can see this is a shp or shapefile.

  6. Under downloads select Download Shapefile.

  7. Learn how to open shapefiles in GIS software using the tutorial, How to open vector data in QGIS.