Studying the Heart of MSU through GIS

This semester I have continued to work on the GIS for Campus Archaeology and will be presenting a poster at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) this coming spring. In deciding on a research topic and a question I wanted to answer, it occurred to me to look at the most important areas on campus. I decided to focus on a historically significant area of campus, the heart, or the space located within West Circle Drive. Historically the first dorm hall, Saints Rest, and the second dorm hall, Williams Hall (the original Williams Hall) stood here; along with College Hall, MSU’s first laboratory, classroom, and administrative building. This area today supports our oldest buildings, the MSU Museum, Beaumont Tower (which is built over College Hall), Cowels House, and the now oldest building on campus, Linton Hall. This area also is important because of the picturesque area known as the “Sacred Space”, or the green space north of the museum. MSU has forbidden any structures to be built in the Sacred Space. Because this area has the greatest antiquity on campus it is of great importance to Campus Archaeology and in turn, the artifacts we find there can shed the most light MSU’s history; therefore, I decided to use the data we have for this area and create a GIS project.

Various GIS analysis tools that help to visualize, interpret, and understand data, can reveal relationships and patterns that would otherwise be unknown. I want to look at the spatial and temporal patterns of deposits in the archaeological record within the Sacred Space.  I’ll use two types of GIS analysis, hotspot analysis and exploratory data analysis. These tools can be used to reveal two very different relationships. A hotspot analysis will reveal spatially clustered areas of high or low artifact values, allowing us to see geographic locations with high densities of artifacts, versus those with low, or no artifacts. With those areas pinpointed using hotspot analysis, I can then overlay those findings with a historic map of campus, revealing spatial relations between known locations of historic buildings and the artifact hotspots. Using the exploratory analysis tools, I can statistically analyze artifact data to further illustrate the relationships between today’s finds and the historical layout of campus. Ideally, all of this would illustrate changes in the heart of MSU through time in a consolidated image.

This is not only going to be my first presentation at UURAF, but also my first academic presentation outside of class! I’m definitely very excited and hope that this project 1) turns out okay and my analysis reveals something useful and 2) is interesting for those to come see it! I’ll also be continuing to maintain the GIS for CAP in general throughout this semester. Right now we’re working to get all the initial projects CAP did into the GIS, which is proving to be more taxing than originally thought. Transferring and translating field notebooks into a GIS database that requires pinpoint locations can be tricky!

But anyways, keep an eye out for my next blog that will discuss my findings and I look forward to seeing some of you at UURAF.


Author: Josh Schnell

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