Software Limitation

Around the same time I was assigned my internship with the Smithsonian’s Conflict Cultures project, I started a new position at my CRM firm as GIS technician. I spend my days creating maps in ArcGIS. When I read through the Conflict Cultures Code Book, I realized we are coding Arc tables. With the best GIS software at my disposal, I asked my supervisor if I could use ArcMap to find the X, Y coordinates for the museums I research. She approved, and using the geocoding tool I queried the first address, obtaining the first set of coordinates without issue.

A few entries later, I came upon my first museum with no street address. I was working with Montserrat, an island about four miles wide, and the address I was looking for was just “Main Road.” ESRI’s base map did not contain a road called “Main” in Montserrat. I am acquainted with an archaeologist who has worked in Montserrat, and upon asking him where Main Road is located he replied that locals refer to a stretch of one road with several names as “Main Road.” I looked at the Google map embedded in the museum’s website and thought that I might have more success matching the embedded map with a Google map I could pull coordinates from. I obtained the correct coordinates using this method.

After this episode, I began to use Google maps regularly. I found that there was no significant difference in the coordinates, and I could find coordinates using directions (such as “next to the gas station”) in the absence of street addresses. I learned that although ArcGIS is professional-grade software, it is not equipped to handle every GIS inquiry. ESRI frequently updates their base maps, however Google’s pinned locations were more useful. In the case of the Caribbean, where most islands do not garner big-data interest, Google’s user-generated resources proved invaluable.

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