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Geographic Information System (GIS) and Digital Scholarship Research: GIS Datasets

How to get data for use in GIS software for analysis?  Below are some sources for getting different types of data for use in GIS software.  These data usually covers demographic, economic and social aspects for researchers in performing related analysis.

Global Data

The following data sources provides global data for use:

  • GADM Global Administrative Areas
    GADM has built up a rich geospatial database of world's administrative boundaries for GIS software, covering 294,430 administrative areas of different administrative levels of government, such as the state level, the provincial level and the county level. The dataset is free for academic use and the data can be saved as shapefile, ESRI geodatabase, RData and Google Earth kmz format.
  • Spatial Data Repository 
    The Spatial Data Repository provides geographical data of public health and population which is collected by The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) Program and the U.S. Census Bureau for GIS uses. The DHS program has conducted more than 300 surveys across 90 countries, providing accurate access to the demographic and health situations across the globe.
  • The Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX)
    Since 2014, the HDX project has established an open-source platform to facilitate humanitarian data exchange and usage. Until now, the project has offered 4,396 datasets, from 244 locations and 840 sources, for data analysis. After setting up an account, users can upload their datasets to the HDX repository.  
  • Worldpop
    Started in 2013, the Worldpop project aims at creating an archive of population datasets of South America, Africa and Asia. The datasets can be openly accessed for regional development and academic research. The methods used in the Worldpop project is highly transparent, with full documentation and peer reviews. 
  • Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)
    Established by N.A.S.A., SEDAC hopes to serve as an "information gateway" between earth sciences and social sciences". It provides more than 202 datasets and 40 data collections on different issues of Human Geography such as agriculture, urban development and global poverty.


Greater China GIS Data


  • China Map
    China Map is an online map of different data layers, which can be freely downloaded.  The map provides datasets on different aspects of Chinese urban landscape, such as society and demographics, transportation, religious and historical sites, minority and languages as well as climate and weather etc. 

  • China Historical GIS
    Founded in 2001, the China Historical GIS project is a database of populated places and historical administrative units in Chinese history from 221 BC to 1911 CE. The project has served as a GIS platform for researchers to conduct spatial-temporal analysis with the use of digitalized historic maps. 

  • China Biographical Database Project (CBDB)
    Developed by Harvard University, CBDB is a free database that provides biographical information of more than 360,000 individuals in Chinese history from 7th to 19th century. The data in CBDB is useful for socio-statistical-spatial analysis as well as biographical reference. 


Hong Kong

    This website provides the official data source from the HKSAR Government covering different aspects of Hong Kong's urban landscape such as population, climate, employment and labour, social welfare.
  • Census and Statistics Department, HKSAR
    Census and Statistics Department of the HKSAR Government provides different datasets on Hong Kong Statistics, such as population, employment rate, median hours of work. The data can be downloaded to excel and csv formats.
  • Hong Kong Geographic Information System Association (HKGISA)
    Founded in 1995, HKGISA aims to promote the GIS research and application in Hong Kong. The official website of HKGISA has published a list of Hong Kong GIS resources from Lands Department, Planning Department, and CentaMap etc.

  • Open Geo-spatial Data in HK by Esri
    The ArcGIS software company Esri China (HK) Ltd. has utilized HKSAR's official data from DATA.GOV.HK to creat different types of layers and webmaps for GIS applications. The source data format is processed and converted to Esri File Geodatabase format and then uploaded to Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform for sharing and reference purpose.


Related Economic and Social Data

CUHK Library has subscribed 30 databases on economic and social data, such as Country Data China, Europa World, Global Health Observatory. These would be useful for spatial-temporal analysis with GIS applications.