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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life November 22, 2019

Mapping Holiday Travel

Map of eastern US with dots marking travel locations
Whether you’re traveling near or far, Thanksgiving break is right around the corner. And for those wondering where their fellow Smithies are headed for the holiday, there’s a map for that!

For the past six years, Smith’s Spatial Analysis Lab director Jon Caris and his team have been producing and maintaining two interactive holiday travel maps: The Tofurkey Thanksgiving map and the Snowflake Winter Recess map. 

The maps are crowdsourced visual displays, Caris says.

“Crowdsourcing is a technique that gathers input from a community to respond to a question,” he explains. The technique—also referred to as volunteered geographic information—“is often used to identify areas of concern, such as hazardous intersections, or to highlight locations of special interest.”

This year’s Tofurkey map shows students, faculty and staff traveling as far as Chicago and Texas—as well as points on at least two other continents for the holiday. Alongside their location, map users can upload a picture of the food, friends and climate they will be enjoying at Thanksgiving.

The global display “adds to the anticipated fun of the holiday,” Caris says, adding that “like all of our map projects, another intention is to educate.”

Caris says students are often curious about the holiday map, and want to learn how it was created. In response, the Spatial Analysis Lab offers workshops on how to develop and use crowdsourced maps, where participants can practice mapping everything from impervious surfaces on campus to local ecological history.

The Tofurkey map was first conceived in 2013 by post-baccalaureate fellow Victoria Beckley. The map has been produced annually by successive fellows in the Spatial Analysis Lab, and is now maintained by Tracy Tien, the lab’s spatial data specialist.

“The primary intent of the map is fun,” Caris emphasizes. “We look forward every year to highlighting the places Smithies go, and marveling at all of the amazing foods they intend to create and eat over the holidays.”