In my last blog I introduced the female employees working at the Saint’s Rest boarding hall in 1866. These 33 women were paid an average of $2.00 – $2.50 a week for their work and were purchasing personal items through the university, charged against their …
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the long winter holiday season, and as we don our elastic-wasted pants and prepare to eat until we hate ourselves, there seems no better time to, once again, talk about food. As you sit down to your holiday meal this …
Hopefully, like me, you have already voted today and are awaiting the results. While we all wait anxiously to hear what the next four years will be like, let me distract you with some good, old fashioned archaeology. In my last blog post, “Let’s Dine Like it’s 1872!,” I explored archival evidence for a diverse set of college-owned dinner wares within the Saint’s Rest boarding hall, signaling that the college at this time followed the Victorian ideal of mealtime as one of education and conspicuous presentation. Since that time, we in the Campus Archaeology lab have been classifying and measuring dinner wares from the Early Period (1855-1870) of campus that were recovered through various archaeological excavations. What we have found matches quite closely with the information seen in the archival documents, but also presents us with aspects that were left out.
For this work, we have been identifying specific vessels, which were then analyzed for a number of characteristics. While this work is still underway, we do have some preliminary results to share. During this time, most of the college-owned vessels were white ironstone dishes, which were much cheaper alternatives to the fancier, porcelain dish sets so popular with the upper class. While these dishes were not colorful, many of them have different embossed designs on the rim, such as the Berlin Swirl pattern, a wheat pattern, or a scalloped decagonal pattern. A few were plain white dishes with no designs at all. Many of these dishes have maker’s marks, all coming from pottery manufacturers over in England, such as Davenport, J. and G. Meakin, Liddle Eliot and Sons, and Wedgewood.
Thanks to further archival research done by CAP fellow Autumn Beyer, we can presume that these different designs do not represent different functional sets owned by the college, such as dinner sets, tea sets, or lunch sets, but instead represent different purchasing episodes. In the purchasing records from MSU in 1862, we have evidence that the college did not buy all of their dishes at one time, but were buying a small number of them each month (MSU Archives: Kuhn Collection Volume 91-Agricultural Boarding Hall). As the student population grew and as dishes broke, the college needed to acquire more, possibly buying them from different grocers. This might be why different dish patterns are represented, as different grocers could have had different selections. The stock of the grocers may also have changed based on the availability of different imported dishes and what was popular for that year, so it may have been difficult for the college to buy replacement dishes that matched their original set.
Rim diameter and vessel height data also provide further evidence that a number of different vessel types and sizes were present. Among the plates, at least four sizes were represented. While there is some minor variation due to refitting, incompleteness, and different manufactures, plates tend to group around a 6.5 inch diameter small plate, a 7.5 inch medium plate, a 9.5 inch large plate, and an 11 inch very large plate or small platter. Two diameters of bowls were present, small bowls that were only 5.5 inches in diameter or smaller and larger bowls with diameters around 9.5 inches. These bowls also had different depths. Of the large bowls, some had depths of 1.5 inches while others had depths of 2 inches, suggesting that these bowls had different functions. The small bowls all tended to be shallower, with depths of around 1 inch. Besides bowls and plates, other dishes represented include saucers, handle-less cups, deep casserole-like dishes, and other serving dishes that were more fragmented and difficult to identify. While different styles of cups and saucers were represented, all of them tended to be the same shape and size, only differing in their embossed designs.
This archaeological data further corroborates the information found in archival documents and demonstrates the power of using these tools in tandem. When only archival resources were used, it was clear that the college owned a number of dishes of various types that were used as dinner ware, a dining style typical of wealthier Victorian Era families. What these sources did not make clear was the type of dishes that were used. Were they expensive porcelain dishes or cheaper ironstone? Were they plain dishes or decorated with elaborate glazes or painted designs? Archaeological data, on the other hand, can tell us more about the types of dishes used, how cheaply they could be purchased, and what they looked like, but it cannot inform us about the total amounts of dishes and dish types that were present, or how the college went about procuring these items. Together, the use of both archival and archaeological information helps to paint a more complete image of what life was like for the first students that attended MSU. Dining was a much more elaborate affair than it is now, involving the use of numerous specialized dishes that were meant to educate students about proper behavior and to demonstrate their middle-class status. MSU, despite not having great amounts of money, must have believed this practice to be important for the well-being and education of the students; therefore, they invested hundreds of dollars into buying cheaper versions of these dishes. Based on the great variety of designs present, the college must have had a difficult time finding dishes that matched when it came time to replace or expand the number of dishes. Overall, by combining these two types of data, it can allow archaeologists to create a more accurate and life-like vison of the past, one where the anger of those who had to replace broken dishes and could not find the same type of designs can reverberate through history.
Author: Jeff Painter
MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.
As I have been going through the purchasing records for the college’s first boarding halls (housed at the MSU Archives), I’ve noticed some interesting purchases that I did not expect. Scattered among the many notations about common veggies and other foodstuffs were the purchasing notes …
History is fleeting yet enduring. We hardly ever realize that we are making it, but the remnants of our historic actions can sometimes remain long after they are done. Things casually jotted down, random papers and notes tucked away—these are items we don’t realize that …
The tragic fate of Michigan Agricultural College’s first Botanical Laboratory is the stuff of campus lore. Built in 1879, it burned to the ground in March of 1890 when a defective flue—and, legend has it, incompetent graduate students—contributed to a fire in the building’s attic. The Campus Archaeology Program has conducted several brief investigations of the site. To provide historical context for past and future excavations, I am combing the MSU Archives for information about the short-lived building. While the story of the first Botanical Laboratory’s fiery demise has claimed its fair share of attention, this blog post incorporates some of my archival research in piecing together its less known origin story.
To understand why the Botanical Laboratory was built, one must understand that William J. Beal wanted people to know he was a cool professor. No, really. In Beal’s seminal 1882 lecture, The New Botany, he distanced himself and his teaching philosophy from the stereotype of the “dried up old fossil” of a botany teacher who “wore odd looking clothes” and “taught the class from the text-book.” Indeed, Beal’s contempt for the outdated teaching style of the “Old Botany” centered on its primary emphasis on book learning. Without specimens for students to observe and handle, Beal lamented, “It is little wonder that botany found so little favor.”
According to Beal, the antidote to the Old Botany’s ineffectual brand of academic stuffiness lay in what he called “The New Botany.” Beal believed a student should “earn his facts.” Influenced by his Harvard undergraduate advisors, zoologist Louis Agassiz and botanist Asa Gray, and drawing on the scientific processes employed by eminent scientists like Charles Darwin, Beal recommended prioritizing the study of objects before books, providing short lectures, and requiring the pupil learn by “thinking, investigating, and experimenting for himself.” With this method, Beal prepared to restore a hipness to the field of Botany not seen since Linnaeus.
An educational strategy focused on doing and seeing over reading and memorizing required a bit of creativity, some equipment, and a laboratory space in which to work. Almost as soon as he arrived at MAC, archival documents suggest Beal set his sights on procuring and equipping a botanical laboratory. The laboratory would be the first in the country built for the express purpose of botanical study (Forsyth). A trip to the MSU archives uncovered a stack of letters Beal exchanged with colleagues between 1876 and 1879 seeking advice and support. Beal found a vocal ally in Professor Charles E. Bessey of Iowa Agricultural College. In a letter to Beal dated December 31, 1877, Bessey wrote, “A college which proposes to keep up with the current must provide Botanical and Zoological laboratories. The college which does not provide such laboratories will fall behind the progressive institutions at least so far as the biological sciences are concerned.” Mic drop.
With the support of colleagues at other notable institutions, Beal secured the College’s green light to build his laboratory in 1879. It was built on the bank of the brook, north of the green house, on the same site where an apiary (bee-house) once stood. Watkins & Arnold, a Lansing architectural firm also responsible for Station Terrace and the first Wells Hall, were enlisted to design the building. They chose a “Gothic Revival” style popular on college campuses in the 19th and 20th centuries. The eclectic two-story wood-frame structure sported a large rose window and two towers with decorative finials. The design provided the laboratory a bit of a spooky gingerbread house appearance of which Beal was apparently quite proud. Of the building Beal wrote, “As seen from the west, it is very conspicuous and adds a great deal to the appearance of the grounds.”
Inside, the laboratory was finished handsomely in native wood. The first floor consisted of a study and a large combined laboratory/lecture room, where students had their lessons. The room was equipped with a teacher’s desk, a pump and a sink, three blackboards, three rows of tables, and drawers for each student. Upstairs was the museum, which held an extensive collection of plant specimens.
As with all collegiate activities unrelated to income-generating sports, the budget was a concern. The Board of Trustees grudgingly agreed to pay the contractors, Fuller and Wheeler of Lansing, $6,000 to build the laboratory and install a furnace. This tight budget would eventually prove itself a costly mistake—it was not enough to fireproof the laboratory in brick.
One set of costs involved equipping the laboratory. Beal’s hands-on approach to teaching required hands-on equipment, namely microscopes. This was a truly novel and applied approach to teaching biology. In his first decade at MAC, Beal was one of just four professors in the country to provide compound microscopes for each student in his class. Beal required freshmen students two write two theses a year based in part on microscopic observations of plant specimens. His seniors spent every day of a six-week course using the compound microscope. The students must have enjoyed the microscopes–or at least recognized their value–because in 1890, these were among the few items they managed to save from the fire.
While the laboratory itself met an early end, the applied teaching methods Beal championed and that drove its construction left a lasting legacy at this university. If you liked this blog post, stay tuned because I will continue to discuss Professor Beal, the laboratory, and this legacy in my next post.
Author: Mari Isa
Beal, William J. The New Botany, A Lecture on the Best Method of Teaching the Science. Transactions of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, 2nd ed., rev. Philadelphia: C.H. Marot, 1882.
Beal, William J. “Studying the Sciences Fifty Years Ago.” The Michigan Alumnus Volume XXIII. October 1916-August 1917, pp. 257-259.
Kevin Forsyth http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/botany-lab.htm
MSU Archives & Historical Collections
UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records
- Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1879
- Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1881
- Michigan Board of Agriculture Department Reports, 1880: Report of the Professor of Botany and Horticulture
UA.17.4 William J. Beal Papers
- Letter from C.E. Bessey, December 31, 1877.
- Lectures and Laboratory Work for Students in the Botanical Laboratory of the Michigan Agricultural College. 1882.
As I began my archival research about food in the Early Period (1855-1870) I continued to run across stories about students activities on campus related to food procurement. While the students paid weekly for room and board, they also supplemented their diet by hunting on …
With only one week until the CAP 2015 Field School begins, where we’ll be digging behind the Hannah Admin Building, we came across one more means in which to narrow down the date of the Admin Assemblage. Getting an idea of how old a site is can be tricky, especially when all that remains of it is rubble, which, is exactly what we stumbled across in our survey of the river trail sidewalks last summer. What began as just another shovel test pit in the lawn behind the Hannah Administration building quickly turned into a full scale excavation unit as we started pulling handfuls of window glass, ceramics, and metal out of the ground.
In situations like this we try to document and recover as much of the feature as possible, preserving artifacts and structures before either covering the feature back up or allowing construction crews to continue working. Finding this refuse pit on the last day of our field season however meant we could only recover so much before the end of the day, leaving the mystery of this feature still largely unresolved. As such, the question still remains: what is it?
Due to the array of artifacts from fine china to lab equipment, there were two buildings that we hypothesized for the origins of the assemblage, the Engineering building and the Gunson House/Home Management program. After intense archival research this past semester, we began to think the the Admin assemblage had its origins in the Gunson House/Home Management program.
Working with this in mind, the recovery of several milk bottle fragments allowed us to place the feature within a relatively precise time frame. Now, it is important to note that MSU’s name has changed several times over the course of its history, with one such change occurring in 1925 from the Michigan Agricultural College (M.A.C) to the Michigan State College (M.S.C.). So the fact that we found milk bottles stamped with “M.A.C. Dairy” instead of ‘M.S.C Creamery‘ shows us that the rubble belongs to a source that was buried prior to the name change in 1925. Knowing further that the MSU dairy program started in 1895, we arrive at a probable time frame for the feature between 1895 and 1925, which potentially negates our hypothesis for the Bayha House since it was not established until the 1940s.
Before the Bayha house was used for the Home Management program, it was the private residence for Prof. Gunson and his wife from 1892-1940. The date range on the milk bottles in the Admin assemblage fit the time frame for the Gunson house, but the range of material still leaves us with questions.
Hopefully, field school excavations of the area will lead us to more answers about the Admin Assemblage.
Author: Ian Harrison
I recently began conducting archival research into the second Wells Hall. We have been interested in learning details regarding the building’s construction and subsequent demolition, as well as piecing together what student life was like in the dormitory. During this summer’s CAP field school, we …