R-Studio and QGIS; This is a MAP’s world

As part of my second year module Methods in Human Geography, I attended half a term of programming lectures and practicals. This is something that usually surprises people since they do not see the link between geography and programming. To put it simply, qualitative geography dominates people’s perception of this academic field. However one of the major turning points for modern geography is the Quantitative Revolution (1950s-1970s) during which geographers started using mathematical methods such as statistics and programming to try and explain society through numerical evidence and analysis. Fields such as economic geography and cartography are two of the sub-groups of geography which mostly use quantitate methods.

For this part of the module I was assessed by a 2000 word coursework answering the question “Is there a relationship between those who are new migrants and those that are living in some form of deprivation?”. Based on census data from London 2011, I created an Immigrant Deprivation Index using R-Studio and did a correlation test between the Index scores (Figure 1) and the percentage of foreign born people in each ward of the city (Figure 2).


deprivation map.png
Figure 1



Figure 2

The above are two of the maps that I created for the coursework using QGIS. The software is available online to download for free and resembles the layout of photoshop, allowing the user to create and edit maps in a straightforward and easy way.

On a more general note regarding maps; geographers have been at the forefront of map making and analysis for over three centuries. Yet we have learned over the years through critical research on maps that the map is not an accurate representation of the world but rather a graphic representation of the cartographer’s imagination. In other words, a map tells us more about its creator and the context under which it was created rather than the place it presents. For instance in the case of my coursework, I generated a Deprivation Index based on my own subjective understanding and knowledge of this socio-economic phenomenon and then made a map which by no means truly tells you if the area is deprived or not. I then proceeded to manipulate its style to make it appear as I wanted it to. Therefore my map is nowhere near representing the reality of things, but rather my perception of deprivation constructed through the London census data of 2011.

To conclude, even though quantitative geographical research is not really my forte, it has certainly provided me with the necessary knowledge and skills to handle big data sets and generate and present useful information in a very effective way. I have also become more acquainted with map making and that helped me comprehend the idea of maps being used as a powerful tool to create imaginative geographies of people all around the world. A question to think about after this article is: If you have a map stuck on a wall of your room, what does it actually show you? Who made it and what for?


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