Documenting our Spartan Past: Sustainability Through Time on MSU’s Campus

A quick GoogleScholar search with the keyword “sustainability” will yield thousands of hits. Paring down the search by adding “university” will still result in a host of results. Sustainability practices at the university level have been en vogue in the United States in recent years, but Michigan State has the distinction of being an academic institution that has, arguably, been “green” all along.

Readers of this blog may recall the ongoing CAP project documenting sustainability on the historic campus.  This project continues this year, with research focusing again on uniting archaeological archival evidence for sustainable practices in energy, food, and transportation. Long before the town of East Lansing had properly come into existence, early students were spending as much time laboring on campus as studying for their classes. Imagine splitting your day between clearing brush and hitting the books!

Between the Campus Archaeology Program and the fantastic resources at the University Archives, we are able to both dig up and read about our Spartan Past. The most exciting thing for archaeologists is when these two sources explain each other; that is, we use one source (say, an excavation of an old dormitory) to explain another (say, diaries detailing like in that old dormitory). Often, I have found that scrapbooks and pamphlets, receipts and flyers, journal entries and Trustees minutes have offered more perspective on the historic past than anything found in a book.

Working with CAP Director Dr. Lynne Goldstein and recent MSU graduate Dr. Jennifer Bengston, I have identified several journals that may be best to disseminate our work on the sustainability project. As of now, the most difficult information to find has been that relating to energy practices. Though we have some exciting information about an old boiler that gives us insight into how the university was dealing with growth, more information on energy practices (especially during the early decades of campus life) is needed. Please share with CAP if you have any ideas!


Author: Amy Michael

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