Jonathan Nelson

Position title: Assistant Professor and Director of GIS Professional Programs


373 Science Hall
550 N. Park Street
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53706


Ph.D., Geography, Penn State, 2019
M.S., Geography, Penn State, 2015
B.S., Geography, University of New Mexico, 2012


I am a researcher in geographic information science & technology, passionate about leveraging maps, geovisual analytics, and human-centered design principles to make spatial data more accessible, legible, and actionable to broad and diverse audiences. My motivation as a scholar and educator is to contribute to bridging the analytical divide between experts in spatial data science and individuals not trained in the discipline but who seek to understand and make informed decisions based on spatial data. This overarching goal is inspired by over a decade of work in academia, government, and the private sector, focused on implementing cartographic design strategies to address critical challenges in a wide variety of application areas including: environmental science, fitness and personal health, politics, socioeconomics, transportation, and urban planning.

I am particularly interested in examining the role of maps and data visualization in enriching our personal lives. With the rise of the Quantified-Self movement and widespread adoption of self-tracking technologies, “personal” has become a new dimension (and challenge) in the map and geovisualization design process. My research in this area focuses on developing new map and interaction design paradigms to meet the disparate needs of an ever-growing number of data creators. A major component of this work is creating evaluation methodologies that consider the dynamic, intimate, and subjective sensemaking process that makes personal visualization tools work.

Other active areas of my research include the development of design guidelines for multiscale thematic mapping, creation of spatial decision support tools and open data platforms for environmental applications, and assessment of pedagogical design for higher GIS education.


Geog 575: Interactive Cartography & Geovisualization
Geog 778: Practicum in GIS Development


Nelson, J. K. (2023). Cartography & geovisual analytics in personal contexts: designing for the data creator. International Journal of Cartography, 9(2), 210-230. DOI: 10.1080/23729333.2023.2189431

Lacey, L. M., & Nelson, J. K. (2023). Using geovisual analytics to enrich conservation science: a review of interactive visualization of wildlife and environmental spatial data across ecosystems. International Journal of Cartography, 9(2), 286-318. DOI: 10.1080/23729333.2023.2190628

Wilson, D., Alshaabi, T., Van Oort, C., Zhang, X., Nelson, J. K., & Wshah, S. (2022). Object Tracking and Geo-Localization from Street Images. Remote Sensing, 14(11), 2575. DOI: 10.3390/rs14112575

Nelson, J. K., & MacEachren, A. M. (2020). User-centered Design and Evaluation of a Geovisualization Application Leveraging Aggregated Quantified-Self Data. Cartographic Perspectives, 96, 7-31. DOI: 10.14714/CP96.1631

Nelson, J. K., & Shih, P. C. (2017). CompanionViz: Mediated platform for gauging canine health and enhancing human–pet interactions. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 98, 169-178. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2016.04.002

Nelson, J. K., & Brewer, C. A. (2017). Evaluating data stability in aggregation structures across spatial scales: revisiting the modifiable areal unit problem. Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 44(1), 35-50. DOI: 10.1080/15230406.2015.1093431

Nelson, J. K., Quinn, S., Swedberg, B., Chu, W., & MacEachren, A. M. (2015). Geovisual analytics approach to exploring public political discourse on Twitter. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 4(1), 337-366. DOI: 10.3390/ijgi4010337

Robinson, A. C., & Nelson, J. K. (2015). Evaluating maps in a massive open online course. Cartographic Perspectives, 80, 6-17. DOI: 10.14714/CP80.1299