Explore John Snow’s Cholera Map using GIS Data

Caitlin Dempsey


John Snow’s well known cholera map is often cited as one of the earliest known examples of using geographic inquiry to understand a health epidemic although his famous dot map was actually created after the cholera epidemic to show disease clusters.  

On August 31, 1854, an outbreak of cholera hit the London district called Soho.  Over the course of three days, 127 people died from the disease and by September 10, over 500 had died.  Physician John Snow was able through talking to local residents narrow to down his suspicion of the source of the disease to a water pump on Broad Street.  

Commissioning cartographer Charles Cheffins,  Snow  had a map created that mapped out the locations of the local water wells and cholera deaths to back his argument about the contaminated pump. John Snow first presented his maps at the December 4, 1854 meeting of the London Epidemiological Society and then subsequently published his updated work in the second edition of On the Mode of Communication of Cholera,

This early use of mapping in epidemiology is a popular example used in many GIS textbooks and courses to highlight the application of geographic analysis.

Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!

GIS data of John Snow’s cholera map

Those that want to explore the cholera data in GIS format can do so thanks to Robin Wilson of Southampton University.  Wilson georeferenced a scan of the original Snow map to the Ordnance Survey National Grid from which he then digitized the plotted locations of cholera deaths and pumps.  Wilson has made all of the GIS data freely available in a ZIP file.  

The file includes the georeferenced scan of John Snow’s map, shapefiles of the cholera death locations and pumps, and several color and grayscale OS map images.  Users can use GIS software such as ArcGIS or QGIS to load the geographic data and georeferenced maps to created their own John Snow cholera maps.

Simon Rogers over at the Guardian’s Data Blog has taken the data prepared by Robin Wilson and used  CartoDB to create an interactive map.   Rogers opted for the Stamen ‘toner’ as the base map to mimic the original look of Snow’s map.  At the bottom of the article, Rogers has made the data available in Google Fusion Tables for those that want to explore Snow’s cholera data further.  From there you can create your own map using Google Maps or export the data in KML format.

John Snow's 1854 Cholera Map.
John Snow’s 1854 Cholera Map.
Photo of author
About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.