One year ago I wrote what I thought was my final CAP blog. In the post, I summarized my top experiences working with the program over the past six years. Well, it turned out I wasn’t quite done with CAP and I have spent the…
Here at CAP, we find artifacts of the past that are generally not meant to have been found (e.g. items from trash pits or ruined buildings or privies). In contrast, the scrapbooks curated by MSU Archives contain elements that students found so important that they…
Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. Enter: the Berlin Swirl pattern.
Here at CAP we’ve encountered the Berlin Swirl pattern in both the West Circle Privy, and the Saint’s Rest trash area. Lisa Bright has researched the specifics of the Berlin Swirl fragments found in the historic privy on campus. The ceramics found in the privy are all characterized as institutional whiteware. The following is taken from Lisa’s summary of the privy assemblage from the forthcoming West Circle Privy Report:
“The Berlin Swirl pattern is characterized by a series of paired plumes following the rim of the plate, or around the body of cups. Interestingly there are two different manufacturers of this plate represented; Mayer Brothers & Elliot, Mayer & Elliot, and Liddle Elliot & Son. Although the pattern was produced in a wide variety of vessel types, the privy only contains dishes of varying size, and handless cups and sauces. Plates were produced in dimensions from 6” to 10 ½”. The privy contained many ceramic fragments, but many of the ceramics could be reconstructed. Of those with half or more of the vessel present include: 3 handless cups, 2 saucers (6” diameter), 1 small bowl (5.3” diameter), 1 small plate (6.3” diameter), 1 medium plate (7.5” diameter), and 2 large plates (9.5” diameter).
A Berlin Swirl plate bears a British registered design mark indicating a production date of December 18th, 1856; It was produced by Mayer Brothers & Elliot. Mayer Brothers & Elliot produced ceramics under that name between 1855-1858. They changed the name to simply Mayer & Elliot and continued production between 1858-1861. In 1861 the name was changed to Liddle Elliot & Son, which produced ceramics from 1862- 1869. After 1869 the name was once again. This provides a narrow date range of 1855- 1869 for the production of the Berlin Swirl plates recovered from the privy. There are additional illegible stamps on the base of the plates.”
We’re still in the midst of re-analyzing the ceramics from the trash pit, but it appears that additional Berlin Swirl forms may be present such as the soup tureen or tea set!
In the late 1800s, Americans were thought to favor “plain white vessels with comparatively unobtrusive molded decoration” (Lawrence and Davies 2010:304). By contrast, countries within the British Empire chose transfer prints with bright colors over the whiteware of their American counterparts (Lawrence and Davies 2010). By the 1840s, the first “Berlin Ironstone” appears under the maker’s mark T.J. & J.Mayer. This article provides a brief history of the progression of this style leading up to the Berlin Swirl pattern found on campus. The embossed style and edging of the Berlin Swirl pattern illustrates the craftsmanship involved in the molding of these pieces. One researcher even hypothesized that the stylistic curvature of the mold, in addition to the tall jugs and posts with paneling, may have been designed by persons involved with some familiarity with architecture.
The Civil War disrupted the trade of British-manufactured ceramic wares to the American market and Brooks (2005) has hypothesized that the rise in exports of white Berlin Swirl patterns to Australia is a response to the declining American demand. Archaeological excavations in Australia demonstrate that Berlin Swirl is found at various sites during the American Civil War (Lawrence and Davies 2010). The Berlin Swirl pattern is noted in a volume with a title that really says it all, “Good Taste, Fashion, and Luxury: A Genteel Melbourne Family and Their Rubbish” (2014), a detailed review of a wealthy family with a large collection of ceramics. Clearly, the Berlin Swirl was considered desirable enough to make it to the dinner table of a wealthy Australian family. However, the pattern also occurs at sites associated with decidedly lower class families. The Museums Victoria Collections has a wonderful review of the archaeology of the “Little Lon” working class district, a poor mid to late 19th century neighborhood in Melbourne, where many lower income and transient individuals took up residence. Fragments of Berlin Swirl ceramics were found during an excavation in the late 1980s but, interestingly, many of the ceramic pieces feature patterns or designs that are flawed in some way. Perhaps the rejected wares not suitable for sale to the American market were making their way to the working class neighborhoods in Australia.
The maker’s marks on the bases of the Berlin Swirl fragments in the privy provide tight date ranges for deposition and use. While researching this blog, I was reminded of how powerful maker’s marks are for historical archaeologists, not just in terms of dating but also in thinking about trade relationships around the globe. The Australian examples from both high and low income neighborhoods also remind us that ceramics can speak to aesthetic choice/selection as related to social class. I found it interesting that the working class neighborhoods were incorporating elegant china into their households likely as a result of a decline in the American market due to the Civil War! Archaeological analysis proves, yet again, the interconnectedness of consumer demand for products, status-related items, and increasingly global economies.
Brooks, Alasdair. “An archaeological guide to British ceramics in Australia 1788-1901.” (2005).
White Ironstone China Association Inc. White Ironstone Notes Vol 5 Issue 3 – Winter 1998.
Hayes, Sarah. Good Taste, Fashion, Luxury: a genteel Melbourne family and their rubbish. Vol. 5. Sydney University Press, 2014.
Lawrence, Susan, and Peter Davies. An archaeology of Australia since 1788. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.
Last summer CAP discovered the foundation/basement of a building known as Station Terrace. This building had many different uses during its approximately 40 years on campus (it was moved off campus in the early 1920s). It housed researchers from the experimental stations, served as bachelor…
Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives,…
During the west circle historic privy excavation, 773 fragments of hurricane oil glass lamp shades were found. Lamps that use these shades are characterized by a wick dipped into the fuel source that would have been surrounded by a glass globe. Glass lamps may initially seem like a fairly routine find, which of course they are to an extent. But, consider the role of electricity in your own life. Now, imagine what studying must have been like in a small dorm room with the only light coming from an oil lamp! Clearly the students’ all-nighters would have been interrupted by the tending of the lamps.
The rules of the Michigan Agricultural College from 1868 clearly state that, “Filling a lamp with kerosene when it is burning, or in the evening or night is forbidden under penalty of suspension or expulsion.” However, as we know from the presence of clay pipes and alcohol bottles found in campus excavations, students often subverted the rules. I imagine many a lamp was kept burning as students hurriedly tried to get through the material they needed to know for a tough botany or chemistry course. Though the early campus buildings were constructed of mixed materials, the rules regarding lamps were clearly designed to cut down on fire hazards in dorm rooms.
There is archaeological evidence for the use of oil-lamps for thousands of years, while the kerosene-fueled lamp was introduced around 1850 (1). Ancient Romans used lamps made of stone, shell, or ceramics and fueled by the abundantly available olive oil (2-3). Oil lamps appear in Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Christian texts, usually referencing lighting some spiritual way or the light as a source of direction (1).
I am sure we are all very grateful for the widely available electricity we enjoy today, but in other rural parts of the world kerosene lamps are still used today where electricity is too expensive or inaccessible. Kerosene as a fuel source rivals even the amount of U.S. jet fuel consumption per year! While kerosene lamps like the ones found on campus consume about 77 billion liters of fuel per year, the U.S. airlines report usage of about 76 billion liters of jet fuel per year (4).
Interestingly, CAP has only found oil lamps at the sites of the historic privy (associated with Saints’ Rest) and the site of Beaumont West which is associated with College Hall. These locations make sense as students would have been occupying these spaces after the sun went down. Recently, the City of Boston Archaeology Program (5) located a complete oil lamp at the bottom of a privy dated to 1835. CAP has had no such luck with finding an intact lamp, which is not unexpected since one careless knock into a table could have sent a lamp flying and glass shattering. We have been able to reconstruct some of the lamp shade fragments, but their presence in the privy associated with the old dormitory lends credence to the idea that the lamps ended up here due to breakage. Perhaps it was all to common for students at Saints Rest to make their trip back to the dorm in the dark, after accidentally breaking a lamp shade, and hiding the evidence down the privy shaft.
While Lisa Bright and I were accessioning artifacts from the West Circle Drive privy excavation, we noticed that one of the short combs had some lettering. Faint, tiny print spelled out, “IRC CO. G YEARS” with a few other letters (or numbers) that we could…
This is the first entry of a two part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of Michigan Agricultural College, and the climate and culture of college life in the first decade of 1900s. The first part below introduces Myrtle and some of her early experiences on campus as an African American woman. The second blog discusses her within the larger experiences of African American students across the country.
Myrtle Craig arrived at MAC in 1902 as a sub-freshman in the Woman’s Program. She would learn domestic sciences as a coed on campus. While Myrtle has the distinction of being the first African American woman to arrive on campus, her story is not unique. When viewed from a historical perspective Myrtle’s significance demonstrates broader change in the country. It highlights racial tensions and conversations that university students and administrators, as well as governmental bodies, were working out on a national scale at the turn of the twentieth century, and in some places, still to this day.
While it is difficult for modern students to envision restrictions put on students in the past, it is even more difficult to conceive of what campus life would have been like for Myrtle. For Myrtle Craig, like African American students who had the elite privilege of attending university at the dawn of the twentieth century, campus was one more place of segregation and discrimination. In 1896, the same year the Woman’s Program began at MAC, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation in public facilities across the US was legal. The “separate but equal” ruling also applied to college campuses. Myrtle would not have the right to eat with her classmates or sleep in the shared dorm, bathe in the bathhouse, attend social functions, and was most likely excluded from the privy we found last summer during CAP excavations. She was restricted from participating in campus life simply because she was a different race. Her ability to pay her way, scholastic aptitude, and gender did not protect her from the federal laws of racial segregation of the time. She was, by federal law, not allowed to participate in the college experience outside the confines of the classroom.
Myrtle arrived at MAC in 1902, at a time when there were very few women on campus. The university had only recently started to incorporate white women on campus through the formation the Women’s Program and the construction of Morrill Hall (a dedicated space for female students). In previous blogs I have addressed the physical restriction of women on campus; we know that all females were limited in their usage of the overall campus and chaperones were required for women to walk the campus grounds. Also, most of female students’ activities were restricted to Morrill Hall. Here, women ate together in the dining clubs, studied in the library, slept in their dorms and lived in unity. Nonetheless, as an African American woman, Myrtle would have been forbidden from these activities and spaces.
MAC however, had a different plan for Myrtle as well as the three other students of color on campus at the time. Historical documents from MSU Archives reveal that during her first two years as a student, she boarded with Addison Brown, a secretary for the college, and Professor Newman, an assistant professor of drawing and design in mechanical engineering. It is unclear why these two were chosen. Brown, a long serving secretary, was a part of the college during the formation of the Women’s Program. Newman, a founder of the city of East Lansing, also helped found the People’s Church which still stands today. These circumstances may have been why these two were selected to accommodate Myrtle on campus. Either way, MAC saw to it that she had manageable accommodations, despite federal laws to the contrary.
Within these conditions, Myrtle paid for her room, board, and tuition through cosmetology services and as a domestic. We can tentatively link Myrtle to CAP through artifacts given the potential roles she had on campus. While we do not have direct archaeological evidence for Myrtle’s experience, it is interesting to note that we have found examples of women’s cosmetics throughout campus. The making and preparing of food is read in the archaeological record through historical artifacts like butchered animal bone and old plates and dishware. While further research is needed to establish data linked to Myrtle, she was a part of the female body on campus and involved in these trades. We can use the historical archives information and the presence of these artifacts to conclude that she likely left some of these items behind as well.
A century later, Myrtle’s imprint is more than an archaeological tale. This photograph was found in a student scrapbook and we are speculating that Myrtle is pictured at left.
There are a handful of other photographs of her, but they are all staged. This is a candid picture snapped during a class outing in 1907. If this is indeed Myrtle, she is pictured here as engaged with her friends, an active participant in college life regardless of the norm of segregation. With this potentially candid photo, and later enquiries from fellow graduates, we can infer friendships and bonds did develop as Myrtle traversed campus life to become an Aggie!
Myrtle’s story, shared by many other’s across the country at the time, reminds us of the strides and strife of developing an inclusive and diverse campus. When Myrtle returned to campus as an adult in the latter half of the century, she considered how MSU had developed with the installation of Clifford Wharton, the first African American president of a major public university. Follow Part 2 of our blog for a glimpse into some of the experiences Myrtle shared with her coeds and faculty and how these experiences reverberated throughout the country.
The Gunson/Admin assemblage continues to reveal gendered historical items linked to early females on campus. Most recently, Lisa Bright alerted me to the presence of a glass nail polish bottle stopper in the collection. Luckily, the logo remains intact and, after some Googling, it was…