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Session 4: Understanding and using GIS

Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system of hardware, software, personnel and procedures to capture, manage, analyze and output data in the form of maps. It is a medium to visualize data in time and space.

1. Presentation of GIS diverse applications

Geographic Information System (GIS) is not a computer but is composed of the hardware, software, data, and user. It comprises databases of objects that are geographically referenced. Although GIS is a new innovative information technology-based tool, it is not a software for simply drawing maps or presenting maps and pictures. Most importantly, GIS does not have to be technically difficult or costly. In fact, a computer is not always necessary to implement GIS although in the present, it is now an increasingly computer-aided tool.


In recent years, the Regional Office for Culture in Asia and the Pacific of UNESCO is now utilizing GIS as a tool in many of its programmes especially in cultural diversity mapping (click here to know more about the GIS-applied projects of UNESCO). For instance, GIS was successfully used to collect and integrate data in the management and preservation of the world heritage site of Angkor.


Mr. Bunlur Emaruchi from Mahidol University provided an overview of the GIS theory. He argued that GIS is not GPS. GPS is but one way of collecting data that may be used in GIS. Data for GIS come from various sources like old maps, field surveys, aerial photographs, and remotely sensed data. He discussed the ways to input and visualize data and how GIS facilitates the turning of data into information. He further presented a number of sectors (culture, business, government, education, industry, and environment) where GIS can and has been applied. Briefly, he also presented some case studies like a cultural contour map tracing construction of temples and spatial location of temples to map the migration of the Isan people in Northeast Thailand.


Similarly, Ms. Wisa Wisesjindawat explained shortly what GIS is and how GIS can be integrated with other software and information tools such as databases and photoshop. In initiating a GIS project, there are certain steps to follow such as defining what is to be mapped and what data to collect, creating a database and coding system, and linking the data with a map. Multiple visual examples using live GIS software and GIS applications were provided in the speaker's presentation. One such mapping project is the Chiang Mai Project  that uses GIS applications in checking the accurate position of the highland villages in the province of Chiang Mai. Ultimately, the output from the activity was an updated village location GIS database of the province including socio-demographic data and ethnicity. As an information technology tool, the field of GIS in the future hopefully includes interactive animation to show temporal patterns and web-based GIS for wider access.


2. GIS Case Study: Mapping and Revitalization of Endangered Languages in Thailand


This is a detailed case study that highlights the practical use of GIS in the revival of endangered languages in Thailand. As widely known, Thailand lies in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia with more than 60 complex languages and ethnicities. Recognizing the need to preserve the world's diverse languages and cultures, Mahidol University's Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development (ILCRD) decided to develop a language database as a point of reference for mapping the distribution of ethnolinguistic groups in the country. The data was extensively gathered from fieldworks, questionnaires, and related surveys but compiled and analyzed heavily through GIS softwares.


GIS application successfully proved to be a crucial instrument in mapping ethnolinguistic data vis-a-vis geographical information. Not only did GIS facilitate in determining the language classifications (marginalized or displaced, major, endangered or enclave languages) but also in producing far-reaching maps that show the origin and distribution of the groups of languages. In addition, the language transformations are also displayed which determine the over-all language situation of the country. From the identified data on the state of Thailand's languages, frameworks to safeguard and revitalize them can then be developed. Presentations of Ms. Suwilai Premsrirat, Mr. Isara Choosri, and Mr. Philipp Dill from Mahidol University on the ethnolinguistic mapping of Thailand and the revitalization programs can be accessed here.