While use of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Lab at Connecticut College is focused primarily in the field of Environmental Studies, it could also be useful to students and researchers across the social sciences. So I was excited recently when working with Joseline Urbina ’19 on her Honors Thesis in the Government department when it became clear that she could use GIS for her project. What follows is Joseline’s own brief summary of her project and how GIS was leveraged to further her research. Many thanks to Joseline for agreeing to share this preview of her work in progress. And many thanks to Professor Beverly Chomiak for supporting this kind of research.
Joseline Urbina ’19
For my honors thesis in the Government Department, I am conducting an exploratory case study of Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 Campaign for the Democratic Primary nomination in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District. Throughout my research, I will examine the strategies used during the election, the campaign, and the transition period to study how Pressley won against a ten-term incumbent to become Massachusetts’ first African American Congresswoman, and what does the win suggest for the future of politics.
One portion of my thesis required me to study the geographical boundaries of the district in which Pressley won. However, after searching online (e.g. Google Image search), I was unable to find a map of the Precincts and Wards that are in the district. So I enlisted the support of our research librarians. During one of my research consultations with the librarians, I learned that it would be possible to create the map I was looking for using the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab in the Olin Science Center on campus.
So with the help of Andrew Lopez, I contacted all of the towns in the 7th Congressional district in order to collect the GIS shapefiles we’d need to make the map. Once the shapefiles were collected, we contacted Professor Beverley Chomiak, Senior Lecturer in Geology and Environmental Sciences, who also runs the GIS lab, to ask for her assistance in putting a map together.
Professor Chomiak worked around the clock to assemble the map from the less-than-ideal files we had collected. Once the Wards and Precincts were assembled for the 7th District, the voting results were layered into the map and color-coded to exhibit where each candidate received the most votes during the Primary Election.
These maps have enabled me to visually analyze the election results in a new way, and they have also highlighted the significance of gerrymandering in the district, which expanded my research. As I continue with my thesis, I plan to continue to use GIS where possible, as it proved extremely helpful in increasing my data and analysis.