Smith College Spatial Analysis Lab

A semester in review: Fall 2019

What a semester! We’ve reached new heights this fall with new classes, workshops, and research. This semester we taught Drone Cinematography and Aerial Imagery, and assisted Contesting Space: Art, Ecology, Activism in Latin American & Latinx Studies, Great Cities: Los Angeles in Art History, and Researching Environmental Problems and Sustainable Solutions in Environmental Science & Policy. 

Drone Cinematography and Aerial Imagery

A brief but thorough introduction on how to fly drones and capture aerial imagery– students in this class learned the basics and then created their own short films for community partners. We had films on local dairy farmers, Grow Food Northampton, Hampshire College Farm, and an updated map of invasive species at our own Macleish Field Station.

Contesting Space: Art, Ecology, Activism

We started with a dynamic discussion on drone imagery and how this information informs and surveils our world– anywhere from environmental monitoring to discriminatory policing. By the end of our conversation we wrestled with questions such as “who has access to privacy?” and “when is surveillance good?” Afterwards we taught the students the basics of flying to further complicate and encourage conversation.

Great Cities: Los Angeles

This art history class taught us about art and architecture throughout Los Angeles history while also testing out the newest version of Story Maps. The students researched car culture in LA, queer Chicanx movements, tourism advertising and placed how these moments shaped art and architecture throughout Southern California.

Researching Environmental Problems 

We had a bit of a bumpy ride in ENV201 finding new ArcMap error pop-ups and new workarounds, but we persevered. Despite this hiccup, the students researched the spatial impact of oil and gas well on schools and hospitals in Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Sustainable Solutions

The capstone class for the Environmental Science major often use spatial analysis as a key component of their research– this year was no different! Students paired with hilltown communities to understand environmental problems– one group created a water vulnerability map and another a culvert risk assessment map to convey their findings.

We also hosted a few new workshops this semester– a conversation on the ethical implications of drones in academia and a tutorial on Survey123 crowdsource mapping. For the past few months the SAL has been thinking critically about how we engage with drone technology for our research and supporting student and faculty work. We’ve created a first attempt at a Code of Conduct for the lab and hosted a conversation for input and critique of this document. Quite a few people with a whole range of experience with drones joined us and make insightful comments on our first draft. Look out in the Spring for another round of community input and conversation! 

To help teach about crowdsource mapping we looked to the Landscape Master Plan, which is using community mapping to gather data about the campus. Mia Fuentes Deonate ‘21 joined us to explain these endeavors and practice dreaming about new iterations of the Smith Campus that truly reflects student experiences and backgrounds. Hannah Davis ‘20, SAL intern, took us through Survey123 step by step to teach us how to create our own crowdsourcing maps. 

Perhaps our biggest event of the semester (year?!) was GIS Day! Complete with short films created by the drone class, and of course, cake! 

Over the semester, we traveled near and far to conferences and for field work. We headed to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the Radical Cartography conference and learned about incredible social justice mapping and digital humanities projects. Presenters walked us through ‘mapwashing’, geographies of incarceration and mapping racial violence, participatory mapping, and counter-mapping. This conference aided Emma in writing her own review of the book “This Is Not an Atlas” for Science for the People!

The semester wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the tropics– Emma got her remote pilot license to fly Pebbles the drone on the island of San Salvador to assist in the research of sediment movement after large climate change induced storms. Check back soon to hear more about adventures in the Spatial Analysis Lab!