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Coppin State and NASA Launch Project On the Slave Trade

Coppin State and NASA Launch Project On the Slave Trade
By Dianne Hayes

Coppin State University students will work with NASA to bring African-American history to life during a yearlong geographical research project.

Dr. Douglas Reardon, an associate professor of history, will lead six students in work on The Middle Passage Project, which includes using NASA satellites to explore the influence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on current environmental issues.

The study is supported by a $186,000 grant awarded by the NASA Applied Sciences Program and administered by the Geosciences Interoperability Office at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The project works in conjunction with NASA’s four national priorities: ecological forecast, carbon management, agricultural efficiency and coast management.

The one-year grant will support Coppin research teams conducting 10-day fieldwork and studies in Ghana, St. Kitts and Barbados.

“Too often and for too long, African-American history has been boxed up and delivered in February like a Christmas ornament,” says Reardon, the principal investigator for the project. “I think the African-American experience has broader value than is appreciated.”

Using images gathered by NASA satellites, student researchers will help conserve historic landscapes, rain forests and coasts in West Africa and the Caribbean that were linked to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“It’s a great opportunity for research and training. That’s the part I’m most excited about,” says Patricia A. Weir Jancovic, of the Goddard Space Flight Center, who will serve as the project liaison for NASA. “A number of students could come back to work at Goddard at some point.”

Work in Ghana will include documenting important cultural sites near slave trade era fortresses and identifying environmentally sustainable development and forest conservation. In the Caribbean, students will use satellite data and geospatial technologies to examine sugar plantations, which were central to the region’s economy during the slave trade era.

In addition, Coppin researchers will work closely with University College of Barbados to study sugar cultivation landscape transformations throughout history.

Students will investigate the source of the tropical forest’s demise by using NASA satellite data acquired through hand-held computers equipped with Global Positioning System devices. In addition, they will map cultural sites that could be used to promote African-American heritage tourism and assist in the conservation of forests.

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