Not many students and recent alumni of MSU know that a rustic log cabin once stood very near where many of us have taken classes, crossed the quad on the way to the International Center, or just sat out to enjoy the sunshine in the …
Author: Adrianne Daggett
Developing collection accessibility and record-keeping (a.k.a. what distinguishes Indiana Jones from real archaeologists)
All right, the title of this post isn’t quite accurate: there’s a WHOLE lot which separates Indiana Jones from a legitimate practitioner of archaeology (and you can read more about that here, if you’re so inclined). But maintaining a well-functioning system of records and artifact …
The discovery of several horseshoes in Munn Field a couple of weeks ago (near the location of the old horse arena),
coupled with the CAP team’s ongoing archival research on the origins of the Grand River corridor, got me thinking about the importance of transportation during the early days of the university.
It comes as no surprise that travel by horseback or horse-drawn vehicles would have featured as a regular part of life for both students and professors in the pre-motor-vehicle days of 19th-century campus.
It also stands to reason that shipments of supplies or mail, or the arrival of visitors, to M.A.C. by wagonload or railroad would have been a noteworthy event at a time when even a place like Grand Ledge was far enough away to which to send a postcard (The cost per ounce of postage in 1885: 2 cents, the 2013 equivalent of which is 51 cents).
The M.A.C. Board of Trustees’ meeting minutes from the late 19th century regularly mention reimbursing members of the college for transportation costs, or votes to allow the payment of transportation for building supplies, new farm animals, or faculty trips.
For example, in 1876: “Resolved that the Farm Dep’t be instructed to accept the offer of a Harvester from the College to pay the cost of transportation.” (By comparison today, transportation costs with large purchases today are often covered by the seller).
In 1877: “Resolved: That Prof. Gulley be allowed Five dollars each for the fifty pigs furnished by him to the Farm Department.
Resolved that the pair of Poland China pigs purchased by Prof. Gulley for the Farm Department be returned and the bill for their cost including transportation amounting to $52.95 be paid” (the 2013 equivalent would be $1141.88).
In 1881, a professor’s participation in an agricultural expo was contingent upon the reliability of the rail system:
It was resolved that the Prof. of Agriculture be required to make an exhibition of Cattle at the next State Fair, provided the railroads give the usual facilities for transportation
In 1902, transportation problems prevented the college from receiving shipments of coal necessary for smithing, smelting and coking:
I have thus far been unable to purchase any hard coal though it is greatly needed and some difficulty is being experienced in getting delivery of soft coal under our contract. The following letter from A.B. Knowlson who has our soft coal contracts will show this situation:
” Grand Rapids, Mich. Dec. 5th 1902.
A.M. Brown, Sec’y.
Agricultural College P.O., Mich.
Replying to yours of the 4th we have had trouble with the parties whom we had our contract covered with for Hocking coal, and they would not ship us coal, claiming they could not get transportation. We have been forced to go out in order to try and fill the contract, and pick up coal without any profit. We are doing the best we can for you in order to
fill the contract, although our contract with you is made subject to strikes and transportation, etc. We want to fill the order even if we don’t make a cent, and trust you will bear with us, as well as you can under the circumstances. If you think it is necessary we will come down and talk the situation over with you.
The importance of transportation for the time period (and the awareness of such) is underscored by the copy of the commencement address by E.D. Partridge printed in the September 15, 1896 issue of the M.A.C. Record (the student paper at the time).
Titled ‘Transportation’, Partridge opens the address by commenting that “The growth [of the American transportation system], though slow and almost unnoticeable at times, has resulted in more good to the nation, and greater advantages to the people than any political movement could have brought about…. For, as farming increased, as manufacturing progressed, as the people turned their eyes westward and located at a distance from the center of civilization, as each community became less and less independent, it became plainer and more desirable that some regular means of transportation be established.” In this case, Partridge is speaking primarily of the trans-continental railroad system. He later says, “It is hard to say just what line of development the future will follow; so let us leave the future, and look at few of the needs for, and results of a good transportation system.”
He goes on to discuss the relative costs and benefits of cable cars, electric railroad, and bicycles for both urban and rural areas alike.
It’s interesting to note that, by the time Partridge’s speech was published in 1896, automobiles had been in production for 10 years in Europe (not that they were big sellers). Just a few years after Partridge’s speech, automobiles would go into large-scale production down the road from M.A.C. at the Oldsmobile Plant in Lansing, established in 1902, and a few years later by Ford. Yet it doesn’t appear that Partridge or his contemporaries would have predicted how predominant motor vehicles would become, nor their effect on the infrastructure and even social organization of a place like the M.A.C. Just a few years later, students at the college were apparently part of the growing national discourse passionately arguing over whither the future of American technology. A printed version of a speech given by one Mr. Geo B. Fuller, M.A.C. 1900, printed in the March 13, 1900 issue of the M.A.C. Record, titled “The Evolution of the Automobile”, demonstrates the underlying optimism many had regarding this new technology and its potential for social and economic progress. Mr. Fuller’s speech talks of the public prejudice against early automobiles and their inventors in Europe. “The Englishman is an admirer of the horse; and those engaged in the horse trade were afraid of the automobiles, and took measures to have laws passed which would render them useless…. It was not until recently that movements might have been seen preparatory to the development and manufacture of automobiles as a new industry.” He furthermore speaks of automobiles as the solution to several extant problems, and predicts a new age of technological equality: “For the future, the automobile promises a city practically free from the rumbling of heavy drays, and the clatter of the horses hoofs which make modern urban life more or less miserable…. Not only will the rumble of heavy trucks disappear, but the removal of the horse from the street will practically solve the problem of street cleaning. The repairing of roads will be reduced to a minimum…. Once the horseless age is in full sway, every man will own his automobile. The bicycle will be put away – except for sport. Even on the farm motor-driven wagons will carry the hay from the field and the grain to the market. The horse will still be harnessed to the plow, furnish sport on the race course, and exercise for the few, but he will no longer be the burden carrier of man.”
It’s clear that the “horseless age” as envisioned by Mr. Fuller isn’t quite what came to pass, and the arrival of personal automobiles on the M.A.C. campus came with its own problems, to judge from further mentions of transportation in early 20th century M.A.C. Record issues and Board of Trustee minutes. By the 1920s automobiles had become common enough for college officials to worry about organizing parking during football games, but also popular enough for the student paper to offer advice on driving routes between cities.
The October 15, 1920 issue of the M.A.C. Record provides advice on automobile routes between East Lansing and Ann Arbor. Navigation by automobile in those days was much like driving off-road today, it seems; the routes between the two cities include dirt and gravel roads linking between the incipient state highway system, which did include Grand River (M-16) by 1918.
It’s not clear how students and faculty at an agricultural school such as M.A.C. would have felt about the changes that came with the transition to “the horseless age.” On the one hand, the presence of motor vehicles may have made certain aspects of campus life easier. On the other hand, some, especially those whose work (or research) depended a horse-based transportation system, may have felt that their future livelihood was at stake. It’s also not clear yet (from what I’ve found) just how quickly horse-based transportation truly disappeared from the landscape in a place as rural as the M.A.C. campus once was.
The reports on the first and second annual horse shows at the college in the early 1920s go out of their way both to remark on the presence of numerous automobiles (which underscores how noteworthy they actually were at the time) as well as comment at length on the importance of holding a horse show in the first place:
“The importance of such a contest at M.A.C. is twofold. It inspires interest in well-bred and trained animals and touches also on the preparedness of the military program. As an annual feature the horse show will undoubtedly grow in popularity and in the general interest displayed by the people of the state.” (M.A.C. Record, May 12, 1924). By 1930, however, emphasis on the nature of the horse show in the M.A.C. Record had shifted to its ‘aristocratic’ nature (actual wording used in the article), not its practical one (link). I can’t be sure that this is linked to changes in infrastructure and technological access, but this topic is of continuing interest to me, so I’ll likely be following it up more in the future. Stay tuned.
This month, for its final session, Dig The Past was a part of the MSU Science Festival, a 5-day event that draws thousands to MSU’s campus for a diverse array of programming by several departments and units. I was pleased to wrap up Dig The …
On Saturday, February 22 we held another session of Dig the Past at the MSU Museum. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to promote the program the day before on WLNS/ Channel 6’s local morning news show via a live interview with Francesca …
Dig the Past kicked off the spring semester with a high-energy workshop last Saturday, January 18th at the MSU Museum auditorium (see a flier with the full list of dates here). I had wanted to get the program going strong right away for the semester and I’m fortunate to have the support from the CAP team, the program facilitators, and museum education staff to get it going right away. My mission for the workshops this semester, now that the program has gone through a few runs, is to implement more activities geared towards learning about campus history and historical archaeology in general.
Saturday’s agenda included two new activities: working with clay (and the concept of pottery), and the basics of unit mapping. While neither of these topics are exclusive to the work we do here on campus, they certainly fall well within the materials and methods applicable to our understanding of campus history. Since the inception of ‘Dig the Past’, making content that is meaningful and accessible at the same time – as well as fun – has been a process of continued refinement. What I work to refine includes what key phrases and concepts we choose to introduce, how and when we introduce them as we guide kids through the activities, and the level of complexity or realism we decide to use in the activities themselves in order to underscore those concepts. The new activities this month were no exception: the initial idea behind ‘working with clay’ had been to promote ideas about vessel forms and function – and maybe social meanings – using some contemporary fired ceramic vessels as comparative examples while participants ‘learned with their hands’ shaping their own clay works of art. Turns out, it’s pretty hard to get kids between the ages of 4 and 8 to listen attentively in a group setting to any kind of prolonged spiel when you give them a blob of clay to mash, roll and squish. I ended up boiling down the message into a couple of key questions that I’d pose to the group as a whole – parents included – such as “Do you know how long people have been making clay pots?” (“Twelve thousand years?! How many great-great-grandparents ago do you think that is?”) and “What do you think people used them for in the past?”. I also showed numerous kids the basic coil technique, though they might remember it better as the ‘worm’ technique, but I tried to work in the idea that people have been doing this for a very, very long time. However, the simple questions that I did ask were effective in that kids liked to make guesses, and those who’d been sitting at the table long enough to have heard the answers before were excited to know the answers before the other children. Parents, likewise, tend to listen in, venture guesses, and sometimes offer stories of their own encounters with archaeological sites or objects.
The unit-mapping activity was one I had in mind for somewhat older and more detail-oriented participants. The idea was to look at the layout of “artifacts” on the gridded surface of a mock excavation unit floor (which we’d drawn out on kraft paper and taped to the actual floor), plot the artifacts’ location on a sheet of grid paper, and make some basic observations about context, taphonomy, etc. I was busy with the clay activity most of the day and had two other facilitators running this one, but I hope to get their insights on participants’ interactions with it in writing sometime in the near future. What the facilitators did tell me after the workshop was over was that only about 20% of the youth participants were interested in doing the mapping activity, but that those who were, were pretty into it. This is about what I expected, so I was pleased to hear it.
Campus Archaeology’s stated engagement mission includes “educating [the MSU community] about their cultural heritage, and about how archaeology can be used to discover a community’s past.” I’ve felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to create Dig the Past as a way to do so that allows for on-on-one interpersonal interaction with adults and youth alike. My hope is that through these workshops we are helping create meaningful connections not only to the artifacts that visitors see and handle but the unique stories they represent as well. It is my mission for the remaining time which I’ll be overseeing Dig the Past to promote this mission trowelful by trowelful, one person at a time.
On Saturday, September 21 we hosted our first session of ‘Dig the Past: A Hand-On Introduction to Archaeology’ at the MSU Museum. A great time was had by all! Here’s a rundown of some highlights from the day:
- 28 visitors, ranged in age from 17 months to 58 years, signed in. Most of the active participants were children ages 4-7 who were accompanied by parent/ guardians, though we did have a few adults who were enthusiastic to join their young family members in some of the activities.
- Eight families filled out anonymous feedback forms – most were written collaboratively by a parent/ guardian from the child’s perspective. We included questions on the forms such as ‘What was your experience with archaeology, if any, prior to today?’; ‘Was there anything that really surprised you?’; and ‘Would you like to see anything changed or done differently?’.
Here’s some of the interesting feedback we got:
- Prior experience in archaeology ranged from ‘None’ to ‘My family hosted a team of archaeologists each summer for several years’.
What really surprised our visitors included:
- ‘How tedious archaeology is’
- ‘How hands-on it was and how friendly and knowledgeable the staff was’
- ‘You can find big things’, and
- A hand-axe that looked like one my father had, that I had assumed was a tourist-sale fake.’
Some things our visitors would like to see changed or done differently included:
- ‘More adult-level offerings’ and ‘Find more things’.
From 1-10, all visitors who provided feedback ranked their experience as a 9 or 10.
One of the most interesting insights from the feedback forms was learning which activity engaged each learner the most. We asked them to tell us what they enjoyed most about the day’s activities, and not everyone answered ‘Digging’ (although several did, of course). One visitor said the ‘computer analysis’ [digital microscope] was their favorite; while others mentioned sifting or handling artifacts, and a couple said that they loved it all. This concurred with my impression of the activities as they were occurring: different children seemed engaged by different aspects depending on their age, interests, and learning style.
Looking forward to the next session, the facilitators and I agreed that it would be useful to incorporate some of the visitor suggestions, and we will be working on doing that over the next few weeks. But the activities that we did have not only met the learning criteria I had set forth but also created a fun experience for everyone involved.
The project I am developing for CAP this semester is, as I wrote in my intro post, a public engagement program titled “Dig the Past” designed to teach children about archaeology and campus history through hands-on simulations of real archaeological activities. On Sunday, September 15, …