HIST296 GIS hands-on exercise — Fusion Tables

Mapping occupations and industrial sites in 1950s Philadelphia with Google Fusion Tables

This exercise is based on instructions from Create a Map–Fusion Tables Tutorial and this exercise by Jack Dougherty of Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut. 

Today we will run through using Google Fusion Tables to map a set of sample historical data for a research project. Google Fusion Tables is a Google App that can be used to host and visualize tabular data.

To begin, you will need a free Google account.  If you have a Gmail account, you already have one.

The Project

We will be using three different types of data that tell us something about Philadelphia in the 1950s.  What we want to examine is where people who work in various major occupations live and, ultimately, how that relates to industrial sites in the city.

The Data

To simplify things for a class period-scale, I have narrowed the scope of the data to a small sample of what is actually available.  The data was collected from two sources you could use in real-life historical research.

The first data file is tract-level 1950 US Census major occupations table data for which was downloaded from NHGIS (www.nhgis.org).  I have edited this file to only include a few columns of of the table (see below) and have only included data for Philadelphia County.

The second file we will use is also from NHGIS and is the census tract boundary data for the 1950 Census.  This data is available as a shapefile (.shp) but, since Fusion Tables does not use shape files, I have converted it into KML (.kml) format using the ShapeEscape service (www.shpescape.com).  KML is the file format used by Google Maps and Google Earth along with other mapping tools.  For convenience I have also edited the file to only include Philadelphia County.

The third file includes a small sample of Philadelphia industrial site addresses and company details that we will add as a new layer to our map in part two, if there is time.  This I data I entered into a spreadsheet after consulting a print copy of the 1956 edition of the Industrial Directory of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  Not all of the historical data you will want to visualize will be available electronically so print resources like this are very valuable.

Diving In

Step One:

  • Download and unzip the attached file which contains  the three data files.  Two we will use right away, the third we will use if there is time.HIST296_GIS_files.zip
  • Click here to go to Google Drive. Then log in to your Google account, if needed.
  • Once you log in you will see your Google Drive file listing.  This may be empty but we can change that!

Step Two:

  • Click the red Create button on the left side of the screen and choose Connect more apps if you haven’t used Fusion Tables before. Then search for the word “fusion” in the search box. When you see Fusion Tables (experimental), click Connect.
  • Back at the Create menu, click on Fusion Tables to create a new table.

  • On the Import New Table page choose “From this computer” and navigate to where you saved and unzipped the data files. Select the nhgis0003_ds82_1950_tract_selections.csv file and click the “next” button.
  • Click “next” again on the next page and then click “finish“.  You shouldn’t need to change anything to proceed.
  • Do the same for the other two files: us_pa-phila_tract_1950.shp.csv and phila_1956_IDoCPA_business_locations.csv

Step Three:

Now we can start the fun stuff.

  • You should be back at you Docs screen now and it should look like this:
  • Lets open the first file. Click on it and it should open in a new tab.
  • Go back to your Docs tab and click on the second file so that is open in a new tab also.
  • Leave the third file for now.
  • Take a quick look at each file and the kind of information each table includes.

Step four:

Merging our data.

  •  In the tab for nhgis0003_ds82_1950_tract_selections, click “merge“.
  • Select the other file, us_pa-phila_tract_1950, From the list and click Next.
  • Now we need to confirm the columns from each table that we want to join on.  The columns may have different headers in each file but the content of the cells should be the same, though they don’t need to match in number of rows.
  • For both files, be certain the selected column is “GISJOIN” and click Next.
  • We will include all of the columns in the new file so click Merge to go to the next step.
  • You now have a new, merged, table.

Step five:

Visualize making a map!

  • In the new, nicely merged, table (which you can open in a new tab) select the Map of geometry tab and you will see an option to configure the map. Do not choose HeatMap as this is something totally different.
  • Your map should display soon, though there can be a processing delay of a few minutes.  When the maps loads you may also have to zoom in.  The map should look like this (colors may vary).






  • Click around on the map to see what happens.

Step six

Making it pretty!

Right now the map doesn’t really convey any information so we will need to change that.  We can do that by configuring the Info Window and by configuring feature styles.

  • Click on the Change info window link.
  • Under the Automatic tab, select which columns from the data table you would like to appear in the info window (the bubble of information that pops up when you click on an area of the map). Not all of the columns have information that would be useful to see on the map.






  • Use the Customize tab to change how the contents appear using HTML and CSS as you wish. Click Save when you are finished.
  • Next, click the Change feature styles link
  • Under Polygons select Fill color and then Gradient
  • Check the radio button for Show a gradient
  • In the dropdown menu for Column, choose one of the columns that you would like to display on the map such as “MALE>> CRAFTSMEN, FOREMEN, AND KINDRED” or “FEMALE >> PROFESSIONAL, TECHNICAL, AND KINDRED”







  • Set the range from “0” to “1000” and select a color pallet, if you like.
  • Click Save and you are done!
  • Explore your map.

Sharing and Embedding

So, you have a great new map.  Do you want to show it to anyone?  If so,…

  • Click on the Share button in the top right corner of the page.
  • Click the radio button for either the Public or Unlisted visibility option.   Whichever you prefer.

Sharing options selector

The sharing options are now active.  You can get an embeddable link or HTML/JavaScript for putting your map into a web page from the Tools>Publish menu.  Or, you could download a KML file of your map that you can share with others or use to display it in Google Earth from the File>Download menu.

Ready for More?

If there is time today, or to try on your own, you can move on to Part Two!

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