Author: Jack Biggs

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

Modeling the Past: Photogrammetry and Anthropological Research

For my CAP project this year, I decided to do something at which I feel I’m particularly good: creating 3D models of artifacts found during CAP excavations. I have been using digital technologies to render 3D models for about three years now and have created […]

Precursor to the Porcelain Throne: The Chamber Pot Lid from Saints’ Rest

Precursor to the Porcelain Throne: The Chamber Pot Lid from Saints’ Rest

The Saints’ Rest Dormitory has a foundational history with Michigan State University, acting as the first dormitory for the fledgling college, and with the Campus Archaeology Program itself, being the first large-scale excavation and archaeological fieldschool on campus.  Built in 1856, Saints’ Rest was the […]

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. Plate Sherd from the Brody/Emmons Complex

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. Plate Sherd from the Brody/Emmons Complex

One of the best parts about doing research on artifacts we find during CAP excavations is coming across incredible stories or histories that stem from what some people would consider mundane and ordinary objects.  Such is the case with a seemingly ordinary piece of a plate recovered from the Brody/Emmons Complex.  The plate sherd (Figure 1) is about 15cm long and 7cm deep and is a from a pleasant jade-colored plate.  Since only the rim and part of the base are present, the portion with maker’s mark (which is usually centrally located on the underside) is not there.  However, the design of the plate itself hints at its origins.  Around the rim of the plate is what appears to be a petal design such that when whole, the plate would quasi-resemble a big flower.  Based on this rim design, it is most likely that this plate is part of the Petal style from the Mount Clemens Pottery Co., made right here in Michigan.

Figure 1 – Petal plate from Mount Clemens Pottery Co. from the 1930s found in the Brody/Emmons Complex excavations
Figure 1 – Petal plate from Mount Clemens Pottery Co. from the 1930s found in the Brody/Emmons Complex excavations

The Mount Clemens Pottery Co. has its origins back in the 1910s in the aftermath of an area-wide economic depression in the Mount Pleasant area [1, 2, 3].  A local businessmen’s association looked to economically boost the area and traveled to pottery factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania and looked at how these different companies produced their wares.  After a few years preparation, production officially started in 1915 in a warehouse built on an old farm.  By the end of the first year, over 36,000 pieces per week were produced [1].  The Petal style seen by the plate discovered at the Brody/Emmons Complex was mostly produced during the 1930s.  Right after this period, the company became embroiled in a legal battle that still has ramifications today.

Workers at the Mount Clemens Pottery Co. producing casserole dishes, 1924. Image source:
Workers at the Mount Clemens Pottery Co. producing casserole dishes, 1924. Image source.

In 1941, workers were being docked pay for the time between when they clocked in and when they started work due to long prep time before they would actually start working.  Workers had to clock-in, walk a long way down to their work stations (the factory was 8 acres large), and prepare their work station before finally starting work [1, 4].  The workers filed a class-action lawsuit (Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Co.) claiming that the company was unfairly docking their wages and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The district court ruled mostly in favor of the company and that it was up to the employees to prove that needed to be compensated for their prep time, although they did require the company to pay the workers over $2000 in back-pay.  The workers then appealed the decision which made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court [4].  They remanded the case back to the lower courts with the strong recommendations that it was up to the employers, not the employees to provide the proof for such decisions.  This led to the creation of the “Portal to Portal Act” in 1947 which defined work time as the time you entered the workspace to the time you leave it, and it is then up to the employer to justify docking wages within that timeframe [4].  These court cases have been revisited and used over the years, most recently in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo in 2016 where workers claimed that the company was unfairly docking wages for the time it took them to put on the protective gear needed for processing pork.

After the case was settled in 1946, Mount Clemens Pottery Co. still had issues with workers but things eventually stabilized.  The factory permanently shut its doors in 1986 after sales plummeted. Researching these histories lets us rediscover the stories that otherwise are unknown to us.  What seems to be just a normal plate is actually symbolic of workers’ right that still have lasting effects into the 21st century.

 

References:

[1] MCPL (Mount Clemens Public Library), 2008. Mount Clemens Pottery Company – Local History Sketches, pp.1-3

[2] Doll, C.E., 1993. The Mount Clemens Pottery Company: History and Memories.

[3] http://www.laurelhollowpark.net/orp/mtclemenspottery.html

[4] Goldberg, H.M. et al., 2014. When Does Compensation for “Time Spent Under the Employer’s Control” Include Pre and Post Shift Waiting and Other Activities?. Southern Journal of Business and Ethics; vol. 6:33-45.

If You’d Like to Make a Call…: The Michigan Bell Telephone Sign from the Brody Dump

If You’d Like to Make a Call…: The Michigan Bell Telephone Sign from the Brody Dump

As technology constantly changes, so too does the constructed landscape to accommodate those changes.  One major notable change that has occurred in recent memory is the mass-production and availability of cell phones in the 1990s and 2000s.  Cell phones allow people to talk to anyone […]

Take Two Shots of Whiskey Every 6 Hours: Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition Era MSU

Take Two Shots of Whiskey Every 6 Hours: Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition Era MSU

As archaeologists, some of our most common findings are in fact trash, the things people not longer want or need which are then thrown away.  As a result, dump sites, or middens, are some of the best contexts from which to reconstruct the lives of […]

Middle school outreach – reflections on my research

Middle school outreach – reflections on my research

Like Mari Isa, for this blog post, I will be talking about the outreach event that CAP ran for Holmes Middle School in Livonia, MI on Friday, January 19th.  However, I will be discussing it from a different point of view.  In Mari’s blog, she discussed the activity itself: what we had the students look at, what the goals of the activity were, what the outcomes were, etc.  I will be coming from a different standpoint: that of a grad student leading the activity and how it impacted us.

CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.
CAP fellow Jeff Painter guides the discussion.

As academics (or in my case, an academic in training), we sometimes forget that our research and our purpose aren’t just to further our knowledge in our respective fields for ourselves or other academics.  It is true that in many cases the audience of our publications are other researchers and those in research institutions.  Yet where we can have the biggest impact is in the public sector through outreach activities such as these.  These types of events were not common or even really practiced when I myself was in middle school or even in high school.  That these outreach events are becoming more prominent and more of the norm is highly encouraging and definitely has an impact on many of the students.  However, this event was not a one-way conversation with us researchers just lecturing about archaeology at the middle schoolers who passively listen.  As an instructor in this exercise, I learned a few very important things/lessons.

1.) This type of outreach matters.  Despite what many students say, they do actually love to learn, especially in a hands-on capacity.  Education can be highly effective by taking a tactile route.  Reading information out of books is highly informative, but actively engaging in the research with tangible objects routes that knowledge in reality and makes that knowledge real.  With every class, there was at least one student or group of students that guessed their “mystery site” dated “to the Neolithic, like Çatal Höyük” (seriously, multiple students said this exact phrase).  The students are learning about ancient cultures and time periods and it is through these types of activities that they get to practice their knowledge and use critical thinking skills.

A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.
A student uses a black light to find the uranium glass.

2.) The students taught me how to interact with them.  As a graduate student, I interact mostly with my professors and other graduate students, so our topics of conversation sometimes go in directions and use certain jargon that the majority of people don’t understand or don’t care about.  By spending an entire school day with middle schoolers, we all had to reorient how we interact with others when talking about topics that we are all very well-versed in.  We sometimes forget that our research benefits the public and that we therefore need to approach these topics in a way that is meaningful and interesting for the public.  We work for them, so we need to make sure that we include them in our conversations and that our research isn’t just for our own sake.

3.) Building off my second point, it helped me think about how I can make my own research meaningful and pertinent in today’s society.  The biggest and most important question that archaeologists gets asked, and one that can be the most difficult to answer, is: So what?  Why does this matter?  Research for its own sake does nothing for society.  In doing this event, I saw students that were highly engaged, had great theories about their kits/sites, and were generally hungry for knowledge.  I learned that if one aspect of my personal research (which is how childhood was experienced for the ancient Maya) interested them, then I would have succeeded in part of my research goals.  By watching them interact with each other, I took note of how they interacted with the world around them, how they addressed each other, adults, teachers, and us.  How did they experience their world and how can I use that to look at ancient childhood and adolescence?  Additionally, what similarities can I draw from ancient Maya childhood that I see today?

By teaching these middle schoolers about archaeology, they taught me that I don’t give enough credit to middle schoolers.  We sometimes get trapped in our own ivory tower and forget that there is a world below us where most people live and interact.  Participating in outreach programs such as this not only benefits the students, but also teaches us as the experts that our expertise is meaningless and useless if we only discuss things amongst ourselves.  I hope that we continue to conduct these types of events as I think it is imperative in today’s educational climate.  The world needs more bright students to shape our future and it is our job to help make that happen.

Drama, Drama, Drama!: The Tragedy of Archaeologically Invisible Histories

Drama, Drama, Drama!: The Tragedy of Archaeologically Invisible Histories

As I mentioned in my first blog post for this year, my CAP project is to go through all of the dissertations, and bachelor’s and master’s theses written by Michigan State students about Michigan State University during its entire history as an institution of higher […]

Looking for Some Gin-spiration: Fleischmann’s Gin from The East Lansing Dump

Looking for Some Gin-spiration: Fleischmann’s Gin from The East Lansing Dump

Continuing with my theme of alcohol bottles found on campus, I’ll be discussing one particular bottle that was discovered during excavations of the Brody/Emmons area.  The bottle is a clear, rectangular-based bottle, no doubt a liquor bottle given this shape.  If there was any doubt […]

Blind Pigs, Jazz, and Bolshevism: The Spirit(s) of Revolt at Michigan State

Blind Pigs, Jazz, and Bolshevism: The Spirit(s) of Revolt at Michigan State

The artifacts recovered from the Brody Complex/Emmons Amphitheater excavations are providing many research avenues.. As Mari mentioned in her previous blog, this area was originally used as the East Lansing City Dump for about three decades – from the 1920s to 1950s. One cultural and constitutional phenomenon that this period encapsulates is the enacting and later redacting of the 18th Amendment, also known as Prohibition. This amendment made it illegal to produce, buy, sell, or transport alcohol although private ownership and consumption was not illegal (Tyrell 2015).

Various liquor bottles from many types of spirits were recovered during the excavations at Emmons Amphitheater including gin, whisky (and whiskey), beer, and wine bottles, as well as a few yet-to-be identified alcohol bottles. For this post, I will not go too specifically into the history of any one liquor bottle (that will be in my next post), but will dig more into what these bottles tell us about student life during the Prohibition and how a few variations of these laws made a surprising resurgence in East Lansing in the 1990s.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations.
A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations.

First, a quick history of prohibition in Michigan. Although the 18th Amendment received the required number of states to pass in 1919 and was enacted in 1920, Michigan was actually the first state in the nation to go dry. The state enacted its own alcohol prohibition starting on May 1st, 1918. Due to its easy access to Windsor, Canada, Detroit became the biggest pipeline in the nation for liquor smuggling (Tyrell 2015). Some researchers estimate that up to 75% of liquor smuggled into the United States during this time came through Michigan via what was called the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. During this time, people tried to get alcohol any way they could. Speakeasies (also known as blind pigs or blind tigers) popped up all over the country. Organized crime soared in Detroit (ever hear of the Purple Gang?) and the illicit liquor trade became the city’s second largest industry. However, when the 21st Amendment was passed which repealed Prohibition, Michigan was the first state in the nation to ratify the amendment, mostly due to the rise in organized crime in the Detroit area during the period (Tyrell 2015). On December 5, 1933, a ¾ majority was reached in Congress, thereby officially repealing the 18th Amendment. This day became known as Repeal Day and is still celebrated by pubs and bars everywhere with great drink specials.

Photo of alcohol smuggling bust from truck with false bottom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
Photo of alcohol smuggling bust from truck with false bottom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

So generally, what do these bottles tell us? Primarily, that people (and presumably students since the dump abutted the school and students lived off campus in East Lansing) drank alcohol. Drinking on campus has been prohibited ever since the school’s foundation, yet that hasn’t stopped students from breaking the rules.  Students have always engaged in breaking rules, and it’s probable that they were still purchasing alcohol during Prohibition. One of the driving factors for breaking a school rule is just to break it – an act of revolt against “The Man” or the administration. It gives a sense of both agency and community with other students who can feel weighed down by rules and regulations.

Eleven male students at Michigan Agricultural College are shirtless and posing for a photo while smoking pipes and holding cards and bottles of liquid that are presumably alcohol c. 1906. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
Eleven male students at Michigan Agricultural College are shirtless and posing for a photo while smoking pipes and holding cards and bottles of liquid that are presumably alcohol c. 1906. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Although these liquor bottles date to the post-Prohibition era, it still gives us insight as to the nature of student life and activities. The year of 1920, the first year of national Prohibition, was reported to be a particularly rebellious year. The Age of Jazz was in its early years with many people around the nation considering this new form of music to be immoral. Kuhn notes that due to the strict regulations of the college at this time, students revolted by hosting unscheduled and impromptu dances with lots of jazz music, much to the chagrin of the professors who were said to have been “quite dejected at all the goings on” (p. 321). Most likely a culmination of the desire to break school rules, rebel against the administration, and put the devastation from WWI behind them, students at M.S.C. regularly engaged in activities of this sort which led some people to refer to this period or student revolt as the “Bolshevik Days” at the college (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321). Further, the academic year of 1919-1920 earned its own nickname as the year of Jazz and Bolshevism.

The desire to socialize further from school-sanctioned activities also led to an increase in parties where alcohol flowed freely. Planning and throwing one of these liquor-laden parties would have been a difficult process for a few reasons. First, when the charter for the City of East Lansing was issued in 1907, it was incorporated as a dry city so local vendors and establishments would not have had alcohol. Second, state prohibition in 1918 and National Prohibition in 1920 would have meant that the procurement of liquor would have been difficult and both a state and federal crime. However, the convenient geographic distance to Detroit would have meant that students at the school most likely obtained their illicit alcohol from connections with the rum-running capital of the nation. One account on campus during this time states that a briefcase with no less than 12 bottles of fine whiskey was found in a bush with a note inside saying “This is a sample of what you won’t get if the State goes dry” (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321).

University Reporter Intelligence Sept 20th 1990. Source.
University Reporter Intelligence Sept 20th 1990. Source

Even in recent decades there have been Prohibition-esque crack-downs on liquor and parties at MSU. In 1980, the City of East Lansing amended its definition of what constitutes a ‘blind pig’ which up to that point was an establishment that sold liquor without a liquor license. The amendment expanded that definition to include parties where there is a cover charge, required donations, or a purchase of a cup for unlimited alcohol – common house or student party practices. In 1989 and 1990, East Lansing felt that parties of this nature were getting out of control and decided to revive the Prohibition-era law and began shutting down these MSU student parties which, under the new city amendments, were considered blind pigs – a possible felony. Arrests and charges were brought up on students, particularly at Cedar Village, as reported by a September 20, 1990 edition of the uR-I (the university Reporter-Intelligencer – a student-run newspaper).

The past is not as far back as we think, be it an old law that has risen from the dead or just the attitudes of students towards the rules and regulations of the day. Students rebel and revolt in any way they can. There is something satisfying about going against the establishment, whether that means holding unscheduled dances, stashing briefcases or liquor in shrubs across campus, or hosting blind pigs. So next time you’re strolling around the Brody Complex near the Emmons Amphitheater, remember that you’re not just standing above an old city dump site, you’re standing above the material memory of student acts of rebellion as they tried (and will always try) to assert their own agency and independence.

 

Works Cited

Kuhn M. 1955    Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, 1855-1955. MSU University Press, East Lansing, Michigan.

Tyrell P. 2015    Utilizing a Border as a Local Economic Resource: The Example of the Prohibition-Era       Detroit-Windsor Borderland (1920–33). Comparative American Studies an International      Journal, 13 (1-2): 16-30.

university Reporter-Intelligencer, Vol. 2, No.1. 20 September, 1990. (http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-1636-54-A006374.pdf)

https://drinkmichigan.org/prohibition-michigan/

https://reuther.wayne.edu/node/8334

 

Diss.-in’ on the School: The Importance of Student Research at and about MSU

Diss.-in’ on the School: The Importance of Student Research at and about MSU

Michigan State University is designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning as a Research 1 (R1) institution (1).  Universities do not simply achieve this status due to the population of the student body or the amount of land owned by the school.  […]