Letters / On “The Mapping Project” Podcast

The June 30th podcast episode raised concerns about The Mapping Project—an anonymous activist effort aiming to document, in their words, “local [Massachusetts] institutional support for the colonization of Palestine and harms that we see as linked,” including US colonialism and imperialism—interrogating its specific political purpose or utility for political organizing. These important questions notwithstanding, I was struck by the sheer scale of data collected on the website; the organizers clearly gathered and normalized a large amount of fine-grained information. Since I’m a professor at UMass Amherst, I looked at its entry. Regarding colonialism, there’s a useful note about the Morrill Act, through which, the website notes, universities “amassed considerable wealth through a series of colonial land grabs that expropriated lands from this continent’s indigenous nations.” Regarding militarism, there’s a note about three defense contractors—General Dynamics, Raytheon, and L3Harris—that have participated in a UMass career fair, and a database entry for L3Harris’s (not very large) local office is also included. This is a somewhat obscure and small connection; seeing it in their database says something about the scale of the project’s attempt to document local manifestations of the military-industrial complex, even if, as acknowledged, it’s incomplete. Perhaps to be more successful, a clearer focus or targeting is necessary. But it should be noted that this style of large scale, data-driven methodology can be and has been used for other journalistic or activist contexts, such as High Country News’ excellent Land-Grab Universities project.

Brendan O'Connor
Northampton, Massachusetts