CAPBlog

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part V

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part V

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog we learned more about the first three buildings added to Laboratory Row and how they have been used on campus over time. As we mentioned in our first blog 

Check Out “A Tour of MSU’s Historic Faculty Row,” Now Live!

Check Out “A Tour of MSU’s Historic Faculty Row,” Now Live!

Even during a quarantine, archaeology does not stop. While we have not been able to get out into the field until recently, we at CAP have been working hard to create historical background summaries of areas that will be impacted by construction (a critical part 

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part IV

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog we discussed how MSU branched out to expand their research to fields outside sciences directly related to agriculture, such as chemistry and botany, by creating a Mechanical Shop Building. This space allowed students to get hands-on experience creating tools, such as a twelve horse-power engine, and helped to develop the Engineering Department! In fact, this program was so successful, in addition to the growth of chemistry and botany, that the College clearly recognized the importance of providing laboratory space to their other departments. This is illustrated by the creation of Laboratory Row, a row of seven buildings built over a 24-year period to hold laboratory space for different departments in the College.

Today, we will start exploring which buildings were added to Laboratory Row to see how research continued to boom on MSU’s campus!

Veterinary Laboratory (1885-1930)

While the Veterinary Laboratory has been talked in one of our previous blog posts, it is important to recognized how its laboratory space grew on campus! Veterinary coursework was seen as essential from the establishment of the College in 1855, as President Williams stated it was “fundamental to the very idea of an agricultural college” in his second report (as cited by Beal 1915:154). As farming and animal science depends on the ability to keep livestock alive and healthy, it is easy to understand the importance of veterinary science to the early College!

Although Veterinary Medicine did not become an official course of study until 1910, the College could not have functioned without it, which likely led the College to offer courses in the subject in the 1870s (Beal 1915:154). However, as these courses continued to be taught in the College, the need for laboratory space became more and more apparent. So it is no surprise that when the College found the necessary funds in 1885, the Veterinary Laboratory was the first building constructed for what would later be known as Laboratory Row.

Left: Veterinary Laboratory, dated to 1886. Right: Veterinary Medicine class, dated between 1890-1899. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

The Veterinary Laboratory was placed next to the Mechanical Shop (also built in 1885), southeast of College Hall. The first floor was used as an operating room for clinical instruction on College livestock, while the second floor contained an anatomy lab where a horse was dissected by the students each fall term (Forsyth 2020a). Furthermore, the Veterinary Laboratory even included an elevator to raise and lower animals between the two floors (Kuhn 1955:151)!

Veterinary Laboratory with barns, dated to 1886. Image courtesy of Beal (1915:154).
Veterinary Laboratory with barns, dated to 1886. Image courtesy of Beal (1915:154).

This location was fitting because it allowed the new laboratory to sit right next to the college farms where they used to sit north of the river, unlike campus today (Forsyth 2020a). These barns later moved to a more southerly location, still north of the river, between 1902 and 1908, which led to the creation of a new Veterinary Clinic (now Giltner Hall) in 1915 (Forysth 2020a). After this move, the old laboratory building transitioned to a space for human anatomy courses until it was torn down in the summer of 1930 during construction of the new, modernized Anatomy Building (Kuhn 1955:352).  

No building has ever replaced the exact plot of old Veterinary Laboratory – the location today would rest west of Auditorium Road and north of the Computer Center parking lot. Due to this, CAP had the opportunity to excavate in this location in 2014. Check out our blog post on the Vet Lab excavation to learn more about what we found!

Horticulture Laboratory (1888-Present)

As would be expected for an agricultural institution, courses in horticulture were offered to students soon after the College was established. But the subject grew exponentially with the addition of Liberty Hyde Bailey to the faculty, who’s lectures were so popular that unregistered students would sit in (Kuhn 1955:151-2)! As both a botanist and horticulturalist, Bailey brought the laboratory mindset to horticulture, teaching students that plants could be advanced through “cross-breeding, by hybridization, by the ‘chance of growing seedlings,’ and by selection from the wild” (Kuhn 1955:152). Even Bailey’s predecessor, Levi Rawson Taft, kept up the scientific vigor, as he introduced Michigan to spraying orchards in order to curb disease (Kuhn 1855:153). It was clear that hands-on research was revolutionizing the field, but it was unheard of to provide laboratory space for horticulture.

Horticulture Laboratory (now Eustace-Cole Hall), dated to 1913 (Beal 1915:88).
Horticulture Laboratory (now Eustace-Cole Hall), dated to 1913 (Beal 1915:88).

While the efforts of the horticulture professors and students won over the College and a Horticulture Laboratory was built in 1888, it was the first of its kind in the United States (Forsyth 2020b)! With no preexisting model, the College did everything it could to provide the department with proper amenities, equipping the building with a classroom, laboratory, seed-room, heeling-in cellar, a dark room for photography, and a grafting room (Kuhn 1955:153). In fact, an additional four acres was provided, which Professor Bailey used to create a fruit garden to give students hands-on experience testing new varieties of small fruits. The garden even included a system of tile drainage placed underground (Beal 1915:88-89)!

Left: Horticulture class, dated to 1893. Right: Horticulture students, dated to 1884. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Unfortunately, it became clear that the laboratory was not nearly large enough and so a new Horticulture Building was constructed in 1924 to provide more space and updated features. After the Horticulture Department moved to the new building, the original laboratory took in the Basic College (Social Sciences, Humanities, etc.) before then taking in the Honors College (Forsyth 2020b). In 1961, it was renamed in honor of Harry J. Eustace, the Chair of the Horticulture Department from 1908-1919, who aided in good storage and transport of food during the first World War (Forsyth 2020b). In 1999, a donation by Jeffrey and Kathryn Cole, former Honor students, allowed for a new set of renovations, which explains its current name of Eustace-Cole Hall (Forsyth 2020f).

Horticulture Building (now Old Horticulture), undated photograph. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.
Horticulture Building (now Old Horticulture), undated photograph. Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

In 2016, CAP had a chance to excavate near Old Horticulture. Check out our previous blog post to learn more about what we found!

Agriculture/Entomology Laboratory (1889-Present)

As the first education institution in the state dedicated to agriculture, the Agriculture Department played an essential role in the College – in fact, it was the only department until 1885 (Beal 1915:135). And even after other curricula were offered at the College, Agriculture still housed the most equipment for instruction, was the most strongly advertised throughout the state, and earned $15,000 per year, starting in 1887, for the College for experimental work (Beal 1915:135; Kuhn 1955:162). As a role model for Land Grant universities across the nation, MSU has always taken its dedication to agriculture seriously!

Entomology Laboratory (former Agriculture Laboratory), dated to 1934. Image courtesy of MSU Physical Plant.

In 1889, the College finally provided Agriculture with its own building so that the subject could take advantage of laboratory work in addition to its efforts outdoors (Forsyth 202c). However, considering the strong focus of agriculture in the College, it quickly became clear that the building did not provide nearly enough space for proper instruction and learning. Therefore, just twenty years later, a new Agriculture Hall was constructed that was over three times the size of the original building and the “old” Agriculture Laboratory became the Entomology Laboratory (Forsyth 2020c). Luckily the space was an adequate upgrade for the Entomology Department, who stayed in this building until the new Natural Science Building was added to campus in 1948.

Left: Agriculture Class, undated photograph. Right: New “Entomology” façade on the original Agricultural Laboratory. Images courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections.

Although it no longer held the Entomology Department, in order to celebrate their research in that laboratory space it was renamed in 1969 to honor Dr. Albert Cook, the Professor of Zoology and Entomology from 1868-1893 and the first curator of the museum (Forsyth 2020c). Cook’s Collection of Insects, originally housed in the museum, were moved to an annex at the rear of the Entomology Laboratory in the 1930s, but have since moved to the fourth floor of the Natural Sciences Building (Forsyth 2020c). The Entomology Laboratory was renovated in 1998 and has altered its function to house offices for graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Recently, another set of renovations were completed in 2018-2019 thanks to a donation by Gary Seevers, a previous animal science and agricultural student, which led to the building’s current name: Cook-Seevers Hall (MSU Today 2019).

In 2014, CAP was called to the southwest side of Cook-Seevers Hall for a salvage excavation, as a short length of brick wall was uncovered by a construction crew (CAP Report No. 48). Upon further excavation, CAP team members exposed a large metal drum with metal pipes connecting the drum to the foundation of Cook Hall – a cistern! To learn more about this cistern and how they were used on campus, check out our Cook Hall Blog Post!

The creation of Laboratory Row was a big step for MSU in terms of research. But maybe not quite big enough because all three departments housed first on Laboratory Row later required even more space! MSU was a pioneer in providing laboratory space for numerous departments on campus and so needed a few tries – and more funding – to provide the right amount of space for their departments, but the ability of the College to meet these demands for space demonstrates its commitment to providing its students with hands-on opportunities and facilitating state-of-the-art research!

Join us next week to learn about the last four laboratories built as a part of Laboratory Row!

Resources

  • Beal, W. J. 1915   History of the Michigan Agricultural College and biogeographical sketches of trustees and professors. Agricultural College, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Frederick, Kate. 2014. Cook Hall Cistern Survey Report. MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Report No. 48, East Lansing, Michigan.
  • Forsyth, K. 2020a. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/vet-lab.htm
  • Forsyth, K. 2020b. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/hort-lab.htm
  • Forsyth, K. 2020c. Accessed at: https://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/ag-lab.htm
  • Kuhn, M. 1955. Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan State University Press, East Lansing

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part III

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part III

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog, we talked about the first two laboratories on campus, the Chemistry and Botanical Laboratories. Both laboratories highlight MSU’s commitment to agriculture, as a better understanding of the hard 

THE HISTORY OF LABORATORY SPACE AT MSU: PART II

THE HISTORY OF LABORATORY SPACE AT MSU: PART II

Welcome back to our blog series on research and historical laboratories on MSU’s campus! In our last blog, we outlined how the university gained its start with an emphasis on scientific research and its uses for agriculture. Although the College used as much of its 

MSU Campus Archaeology Program Director’s Statement

MSU Campus Archaeology Program Director’s Statement

Since March 2020, our world here in Michigan and in the United States has come undone. Inequities invisible to some but known and repeatedly experienced by people of color, particularly Black Michiganders, in the past and present have been laid bare before our feet. To date, 18,229 Black Michiganders, who constitute 14.1% of the state’s population, have contracted COVID-19. In contrast, 21,968 White Michiganders have contracted COVID-19, while they make up 79.3% of the state. 2,897 White Michiganders have died of COVID-19, while 2,248 Black Michiganders have passed of it to date. To state it bluntly, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black Americans in our state.

These gross inequities are the result of systemic racial violence enacted against communities of color in our state and country. Black communities are more likely to be subjected to police and government surveillance as well as policing tactics that involve the use of militarized equipment and technologies that increase rather than decrease the likelihood of injury and death. Black Americans constitute 40% of the incarcerated population while they represent only 13% of the American population. Black men are more likely to die at the hands of police than any other group of people in the United States. Exacerbating these issues is the fact that Black communities in Michigan are less likely to have access to clean water, food, and affordable healthcare, medication, and housing.

Black Americans who have kept the state and country operating and safe amid COVID-19 have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit who worked during the pandemic, lost his life to COVID-19 after a woman passenger on his bus coughed near him without covering her face. In other states, Blacks on the front lines have also faced the dual injustices of experiencing racism and violence while potentially sacrificing their lives working during a pandemic. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician (EMT) working to save lives during the COVID-19 crisis, was shot while sleeping in her home in Kentucky by police. Her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the wake of her death. Even when Black Americans have sought to help others in the most trying of times, they are still faced with the ugly stain of racism that we should all be decrying in this country.

We, at CAP, recognize Black communities are already acutely aware of these statistics and lived realities. We are writing because we are making a promise to make internal changes to work towards addressing and eradicating white supremacy in our work, in the culture of the archaeologists we train, and in academia as a whole. Though we are still working on identifying how we can better serve communities of color on MSU’s campus in the coming years, we commit to enacting the following policies in the year to come:

  1. Diversity training when new staff join CAP that is evidence-based and confronts the specific legacy of racism and sexual harassment in the discipline of archaeology.
  2. Listening sessions with the students and communities of color we serve on and off-campus to inform and improve programming and outreach work.
  3. Dedicating a minimum of one blog post a month during the academic year to the history of communities of color on MSU’s campus and/or identifying and amplifying the work of archaeologists of color.
  4. A lecture on the history of race relations on campus at the beginning of every CAP field archaeology school.

We, at the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, have spent much of this year in reflection regarding our role on campus and in a society rife with violence. We underserve some communities and overserve others. As we move forward, we refuse to be bystanders to the violence enacted against Black Americans and people of color. We pledge to do better, to learn and listen, and, in doing so, stand with the Black Lives Movement.

For those of you who wish to join us in working towards justice and equality, we encourage you to read critical interventions on the archaeology of African Americans, the African diaspora, and on the archaeology of race. Our list is just a small sample of the many readings out there on this topic. We intend to expand upon it in the coming months and we welcome suggested additions to the list.

Dr. Stacey L. Camp and the CAP Staff

Websites

African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter

Archaeology in the Community

The Society of Black Archaeologists

The African Burial Ground

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery

Readings

Tobacco, Pipes, and Race in Colonial Virginia by Anna S. Agbe-Davies

The Materiality of Freedom: Archaeologies of Postemancipation Life edited by Jodi A. Barnes

Black Feminist Archaeology by Whitney Battle-Baptiste

The New York African Burial Ground Project: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York by Michael Blakey

Constructing an Archaeology of Children: Studying Children and Child Material from the African Past by Flordeliz Bugarin

The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans by Shannon Lee Dawdy

Toward an Antiracist Archaeology by Mia L. Carey

Access Denied: African Americans and Access to End-of-Life Care in Nineteenth-Century Washington, D.C. by Justin Dunnavant

Assessing Heritage Resources in St. Croix Post‐Hurricanes Irma and Maria by Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, Alexandra Jones, Alicia Odewale, and William White

Critical Race Theory and the Archaeology of the African Diaspora by Terrence Epperson

African Diasporic Choices: Locating the Lived Experiences of Afro-Crucians in the Archaeological and Archival Record by Ayana Omilade Flewellen

A Black Feminist-Inspired Archaeology? by Maria Franklin

“Power to the people:” Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans by Maria Franklin

The Rosewood Massacre: An Archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence by Edward González-Tennant

Whiteness Studies: An Archaeology of White Plurality and African American Material Culture by Lewis Jones

Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

Beyond Strategy and Good Intentions: Archaeology, Race and White Privilege by Carol McDavid

Public Archaeology and Critical Histories: Collaborative Archaeology in Southern Illinois by Annelise Morris

Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line by Paul R. Mullins and Lewis C. Jones

An Archaeology of Struggle: Material Remnants of a Double Consciousness in the American South and Danish Caribbean Communities by Alicia Odewale

Archaeology for the Next Generation by Alicia Odewale, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones

The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America by Charles E. Orser, Jr.

Detroit 139: Archaeology and the Future-Making of a Post- Industrial City by Krysta Ryzewski

Slavery behind the Wall: An Archaeology of a Cuban Coffee Plantation by Theresa A. Singleton

The Archaeology of Antislavery Resistance by Terrance Weik

The Archaeology of Mothering: An African-American Midwife’s Tale by Laurie Wilkie

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part I

The History of Laboratory Space at MSU: Part I

We are all familiar with Michigan State University’s (MSU) status as a part of the top ten conference (Go Spartans!) and for its place as a top tier research university (recently ranked in the top 8% nationwide). In fact, MSU offers 170 degrees for undergraduate 

Digging Into The Past: Girl Scout Badge

Digging Into The Past: Girl Scout Badge

The Campus Archaeology Program has been hard at work this semester prepping for our collaborative event with Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. The goal of this event is to teach young women about a career path in archaeology and award them with an archaeology badge 

World Anthropology Day 2020!

World Anthropology Day 2020!

To celebrate world anthropology day, the current CAP graduate fellows wanted to share how they became interested in anthropology, and some current or favorite projects they are involved in!

Grace: As a first-year PhD student moving to a new state and school, I initially came to CAP to move out of my comfort zone and get to know my own field a little better. I came in with no experience in archaeology and very little exposure to anthropology so CAP presented itself as a way I could learn more about the field in an applied manner.  As was mentioned in my blog post from earlier this month, I was drawn to the focus on outreach and education that CAP emphasizes. Coming from a background in education and youth studies, I have always been very passionate about working with youth and community-engaged research practices. Outreach events such as the haunted tour have proven to be a fantastic example of how to get young people interested in research and the sciences.

This semester, CAP fellow Benjamin Akey and I have conducted research to highlight unsung voices from MSU’s graduate student body. Our particular focus is on the history of the Asian pacific American Graduate Alliance (APAGA) which has been a place of professional and social support for the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community. The initial idea came from our archival research on the history of the graduate school which showed us that there has been very few records kept that highlight Asian American voices. This semester we look forward to doing what we can to add to supplement the overlooked parts of MSU’s history through an oral history project in collaboration with APAGA founders as well as the MSU Archives. Because I was not well versed in archaeological research methods, the openness that CAP has to diverse forms of research came as a pleasant surprise. As an organization that values community, I think that our current project will serve to bolster community interest in the role that various forms of archaeology can play in recording underrepresented histories.

Ben: While I had taken the opportunity to start taking anthropology courses at my local community college during high school, my fascination with archaeology began the summer after I graduated—on a field school in the rural highlands of Ecuador. I had come intending to focus on the ethnographic components of the field school, but quickly found myself enamored with the pace and physicality of archaeological fieldwork, and gained a new appreciation for how the materiality of the past could be integrated into critical and community-engaged scholarship. While other crews were assigned to Incan fortress sites, I spent the majority of my time helping a PhD Candidate who was interested in studying changing land-use and ownership patterns following the establishment of the Spanish hacienda system in Ecuador. Hearing about why he was interested in these topics—and why he felt archaeology was an efficacious method for exploring them—sparked an enduring personal interest in historical archaeology and relationships of power, resistance, and identity. On return from this trip, I became more involved with the community college’s local archaeological projects and picked up laboratory and survey skillsets which further served to bolster my interest in the subdiscipline.

Upon transferring to UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate degree, I started to focus on archaeological courses, with a particular emphasis on historical archaeologies of indigenous communities and colonialism. While I remain strongly interested in these topics, the trajectory of my own research foci shifted somewhat when I became involved in excavations at two 19th century lime kilns on and nearby the UC Santa Cruz campus, leading me to begin engaging with historical archaeologies of labor, capitalism, and immigration. These themes ultimately structured my senior thesis project, in which I examined alcohol consumption between two industrial company-towns in Santa Cruz county in relation to diasporic identities and as a form of resistance to paternalistic social controls and class-based victorian moral expectations of temperance. Besides the narrow frame of alcohol consumption, these themes continue to shape my research aims; my current project seeks to understand how contexts of radicalized industrial labor and anti-asian exclusion movements shaped processes of identity formation among early North American Japanese communities in the 20th century.

Amber: During my time as an undergraduate at Texas State University, I changed my major several times before finding Anthropology. I started undergrad in the Interior Design program, explored majors in Math and Biology, and finally switched to Anthropology with the intention of doing archaeology in Greece and/or Egypt. My parents had a bookshelf in my childhood home full of old National Geographic and Discover magazines and I used to spend hours laying in the floor reading through them. There was one that I read repeatedly on ancient Egyptian mummies. This fascination encouraged me to explore a career in archaeology which eventually led to taking elective courses on forensic anthropology and forensic osteology. My forensic osteology class showed me how remains of the deceased can be used to answer questions about the living in past and present populations. I quickly realized that a career in Biological Anthropology was what I had been searching for: a fulfilling job that can provide services to others, a way to meld hard and social sciences, and…of course…travel.

I have had the opportunity to travel to Belize, Greece, Thailand, Colombia, England, and many states in the U.S. for work. If I had to choose my favorite project so far, I would say it is the Mississippi State Asylum project in Jackson, Mississippi. A total of 67 individuals in standardized pine coffins were uncovered during road construction on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. My master’s thesis examined differential health across inmate demographic groups using patterns of oral health indicators. I was interested in determining whether varying life histories influenced survivorship within the asylum environment and whether patients experienced differential treatment based on their sex or ancestry. We combined skeletal data with asylum written records to explore these questions. This sample was also compared to noninstitutionalized samples from the Southeastern U.S. to determine how health and mortality might be impacted by institutionalization. Being involved in the entire process of this project from excavation to data management, curation, and analysis was an invaluable and rare experience for a graduate student. I am very fortunate to have been involved and grateful to the patients and their families for allowing us to carry out this project. There is an ongoing effort to identify these individuals and return them to families for proper reburial.

Rhian: When I applied to UC Santa Barbara for undergrad, I only had a vague idea of what anthropology was – everything I knew came from tv shows or movies I had watched growing up (cue Indiana Jones, as typical as that may seem). In fact, I actually enrolled with the intention to get a degree in philosophy. However, when I took my first anthropology course, Intro to Biological Anthropology, during my first year I realized that all of the questions that intrigued me in philosophy, such as what makes us human, could be investigated in a more scientific, evolutionary framework. As I took more courses in anthropology and was introduced to osteology and the field’s forensic applications, my focus shifted – I realized that this was the path I wanted to take, as I loved how the applied aspect of forensic anthropology can make a difference to modern, local communities and bring closure to family members.

Following undergrad, I continued on to get a masters in forensic anthropology at Mercyhurst University, which helped further develop my passion for the field and for how we can work to refine identification methods. In fact, through my doctoral degree at MSU, I am to hoping to continue working with biological profile methods – specifically, I am hoping to investigate the utility of postcranial metrics for ancestry estimation, as this has received less attention in the field and needs better standardization. But, I love how the field of anthropology always has an open door policy and welcomes forensic students like me to engage in programs like Campus Archaeology with open arms. While I’m only in my first year at MSU, I look forward to these opportunities and how I can use my forensic experience to inform my CAP research and vice versa, which I know will make me a well-rounded and more prepared anthropologist during my career.

Jeff: Unlike a lot of archaeologists that I have worked with over the years, I was not introduced to the field at a young age. Even in college it did not immediately start out in anthropology. I matriculated into my university as an engineering major, and quickly switched to history after about a month. However, when I encountered the discipline in the second semester of my first year, I immediately fell in love. It was Introduction to Archaeology and because the class was taught by a Dr. Lauren Sullivan, a Mayanist, the major context of the class was of the history, peoples, and cultures of pre-colonial Mexico and central America. When Dr. Sullivan discussed her research and fieldwork, I felt that this was the engagement with the past that I had always longed for and which history had left unfulfilled. I also was awed by the stories of fieldwork in the jungle, so many stories about being chased up trees by wild boars!. Mostly though, I was amazed by the idea of touching and studying objects from the past, material culture. In this way, falling in love with seemingly exotic places, ancient civilizations, and thousand-year-old artifacts, my introduction to archaeology was typical.

Years later I find myself far more interested in the seemingly mundane, in the archaeology of the recent past in the United States. During my one and a half years in the PhD. program here at Michigan State University I have had the opportunity to work as an research assistant and intern cataloging, analyzing, and counting glass and ceramic vessels from two sites far more recent than the Mayan archaeology that I encountered in my undergraduate program. One site dates to the 1940s, barely older than my father, and on a daily basis I will encounter and become fascinated by spark plugs, jars of Vick’s VapoRub, and countless indiscriminate shards of colorless glass. I find myself losing time searching eBay, Etsy, and the Sears catalog to understand objects that are so frustratingly familiar, but just beyond my understanding. And when I do find out that that could be or the exact language to describe an object so the search engine will pull up pictures of it, I am probably far too pleased that I have identified a tobacco tin. The other site dates to the 1850s and while the artifacts are more typical – we have transfer printed pottery! – the artifacts came from field that was once an orchard and later soybean farm and these processes broke many of the artifacts into tiny fragments. I spend hours looking at thumb nail sized pieces of glass, pottery, and metal and while it is frustrating, I love it and again, feel a remarkable sense of joy when I identify the pattern on one of the tiny pieces. While my interests have changed over the years, I still am fascinated by material culture, the people who used and produced it people, and places they occupied, I just have a greater appreciation for how complex the seemingly mundane can be. 

Stranger in the Lab

Stranger in the Lab

“What were you thinking?!” I asked myself a cool day in September. I kept my eyes down toward the black tabletop to avoid making eye contact with the trowels across from me that seemed to be staring back and whispering “you’re in the wrong building!”