2017 Campus Archaeology Field School

Announcing the 2017 Campus Archaeology Field School!

We are pleased to once again offer our on-campus field school.  This five week field school will take place May 30th – June 30th, 2017.  The class takes places Monday through Friday from 9am – 4pm. Students enroll for 6 credits of ANP 464. This class is open to MSU students and non-MSU students. There is a $150 equipment fee that is used to supply students with excavation tools.  At the end of the field school students will keep this toolkit. Space is limited to 20 students, and applications are due to Dr. Goldstein (lynneg@msu.edu) by March 5th.

Through excavation, lab work, and digital outreach students will examines several unique and interesting places on MSU’s historic campus.  In this course students will get the opportunity to actively engage in archaeological research. You will learn excavation methods, survey techniques, how to map and record an excavation unit, laboratory methods, cultural heritage and digital outreach engagement, as well as an introduction to archival research.

This summer we plan to excavate in two areas: Beal’s Botanial Lab and Station Terrace.

Beals Lab:

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Dr. Beal is an important person in early campus history.  Though Beal served as a botany professor at MSU (then MAC) from 1871-1910, he made mark on campus that survives to this day.  The Beal botanical garden (directly east of the MSU main library), established in 1873 is the oldest continuously operated university botanical garden in the U.S.  Beal also started, what is today, one of the longest continuously running experiments in the world!  In 1879 Beal buried 20 bottles containing seeds with the intent to see how long a seed could lay dormant and still germinate.  The next bottle is scheduled to be dug up and opened in 2020.  The location of the experimental bottles is a closely held campus secret.  Beal was known as an incredibly eccentric professor, and the design of his first botanical laboratory was fittingly eccentric as well.

Beal's first Botanical Laboratory - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

Beal’s first Botanical Laboratory – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

Beal's Botanical Lab after the fire - March 1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Beal’s Botanical Lab after the fire – March 1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Built in 1879 (more detail), this building burned to the ground on March 23rd 1890.  Although specific details about the fire have been lost over time, we do know that lab equipment (such as microscopes) was salvaged from the wreckage and the fire prompted the university to establish a fire brigade. We’ve established that portions of the building foundation still exists, and field school students will have the opportunity to excavate in this location.

Station Terrace

Station Terrace - Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace – Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace stood at the souther end of what is now the Abbot street entrance.  This building was constructed between 1892-1895 and originally housed visiting scholars from the experimental research stations. It was also later used to house bachelor faculty members, the East Lansing Post Office, and the Flower Pot Tea room (read more). The building was moved off campus in the early 20s but the foundation, as well as many artifacts remain.  After excavations at Beal’s lab it’s expected that the field school will move to this second location.

For more information about the field school, head on over to the field school webpage.

Download the application. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have here, on Twitter, or email Dr. Goldstein directly.

 

References:

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2015/msu-gardens-ranked-among-best-in-the-us/

http://www.cpa.msu.edu/beal/research/research_frames.htm

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-21F/meeting-minutes-1890/

Let’s Make Botany Hip Again, Part 2: Experimenting with Experimenting

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Beal in the botanical garden. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In my previous blog post, I discussed Professor Beal’s pioneering hands-on teaching strategies and his efforts in building the College’s first botanical laboratory. As I delved into research about the botanical laboratory and Beal, it became apparent that the lab was not Beal’s only, or most sacred teaching space; during his tenure at Michigan Agricultural College, Beal turned campus itself into an extended laboratory of sorts. This post focuses on Beal’s work in the fields of botany and forestry, and how these contributions changed the landscape of agricultural research and, quite literally, the landscape of this campus.

In researching the botanical laboratory, I discovered a large collection of reports and bulletins on Beal’s work. Academics are all too familiar with the adage “publish or perish,” but at MAC, there were also legal imperatives for professors to publish. As part of the 1861 legislative act transferring control of MAC to the State Board of Agriculture, the College was charged with conducting scientific experiments to promote education and progress in agriculture, and with publishing results in annual reports. These records provide us with a sense of what MAC professors, including Beal, were doing and thinking about during this time.

Much of Beal’s research was inspired by real-world problems. During his first 13 years at MAC, Beal “mingle[d] considerably with the farmers in the interest of horticulture to learn their needs and modes of work and thought.” Drawing on the work of Charles Darwin, Beal experimented with selection and hybridization of various crops to improve their yield and quality. In 1878, Beal cross-pollinated different strains of corn, increasing corn production by 53 percent. Beal corresponded with Darwin himself about this line of study, evidenced by letters in the MSU Archives.

Man excavating a bottle from Beal’s seed vitality experiment. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man excavating a bottle from Beal’s seed vitality experiment. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

One of the experiments Beal reported, a long-term seed vitality study, would turn out to be his most famous. Just before the first botanical laboratory was built in 1879, Beal buried identical bottles of seeds at a secret location on campus. The goal of the experiment was to retrieve one bottle every five years and test how many sprouted. The last bottle is due for excavation in 2100. It is currently the world’s longest continually monitored scientific study.

Not all of Beal’s ideas were so inspired. One experiment was called “Feeding the leaves of plants with soup” and it was exactly what you’re thinking. In what I can only describe as an attempt to generate carnivorous tomatoes, Beal made a soup from “a quart of water and a hand-sized piece of meat,” then applied the soup daily to the leaves of the tomato plants. Instead of nourishing the plants, as he had predicted, the soup produced dead spots that gave the plants a “sickly appearance.” With an almost tangible shrug, Beal wrote, “Perhaps the soup was too strong; probably the plants do not like food served up in this form.”

Beal’s various research reports make clear that much of his research was conducted outside of the laboratory around campus and in the extensive arboretum and “wild garden” he planted. It appears he conceptualized these campus spaces as extensions of his botanical laboratory and invaluable spaces for experimentation and observation.

Close up map of campus, 1880. U is the botanical laboratory. The trees north of L are the arboretum. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Close up map of campus, 1880. U is the botanical laboratory. The trees north of L are the arboretum. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The arboretum began in 1874 as two rows of swamp white oaks near where Mary Mayo and Campbell Halls now stand. By 1880 there were over 275 species of shrubs and trees across two acres of land. Beal often published on his observations in the arboretum, including which species of trees flourished and their rates of growth. Perhaps an even more impressive feat was the wild garden. Planted in 1877, it contained over 700 species of flowering plants. The work of planting, labeling, and maintaining the garden was undertaken almost entirely by students with Beal’s oversight. Specimens from the garden, which was located just outside the first botanical laboratory, were regularly used as materials for Beal’s classes. While the organization of the garden has changed over the years, it is currently the longest continually maintained university garden in the nation and a pleasant place to wander as one escapes the library.

During the period of operation of the first laboratory, the legal push for agricultural research intensified. The Hatch Act of 1887 gave federal funds to state land-grant colleges to establish Agricultural Experimental Stations and required publication on agricultural research. MAC professors received part of their salaries from Experimental Station funds and were expected to devote a third of their time to experiments.

Man in the botanical garden, 1875. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man in the botanical garden, 1875. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

To put it lightly, Beal was not enamored of the pace of this directive. While he published some experimental results, he often used the platform instead to promote education and conservation. In an 1891 bulletin titled “Why not plant a grove?” he wrote, “These few pages on forestry have not been written to secure the applause of those who see little use for a bulletin unless it contain some new truths brought out by conducting careful experiments.” Instead, Beal expressed his concerns about deforestation, urged farmers and landowners to plant trees, and drew on his own experiences with the arboretum in explaining the best methods of doing this.

Reflecting on my research into Beal’s research, it is clear the first botanical laboratory served as the center of botanical research and education at MAC. However, as I hope I have illuminated in this post, these efforts neither began nor ended with the building itself. From his arrival at MAC to his retirement, Beal claimed campus spaces as sites for teaching and scientific observation. That said, the construction of the second botanical laboratory apparently came as a welcome relief after two years of sharing space in the agricultural laboratory. When its cornerstone was laid on June 22, 1892, Beal held a ceremony at which prayers were read and his daughter Jessie sang a hymn. Perhaps it was the prayer, or perhaps it was its construction in brick, but the building still stands today as part of Laboratory Row. 

References

True, Alfred Charles. A history of agricultural experimentation and research in the United States 1607-1925 including a history of the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1937.

History of Beal’s Botanical Garden

 Beal, William J. The Agricultural College of Michigan Bulletin No. 45, Department of Botany and Forestry: Why not plant a grove?

Beal, William J. A Brief Account of the Botanic Garden of the Michigan State Agricultural College, 1882.

MSU Archives & Historical Collections

UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records

  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1878
  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1879
  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1880
  • Michigan Board of Agriculture Department Reports, 1880: Report of the Professor of Botany and Horticulture
  • Report: Michigan State Agricultural College Experiments and Other Work of the Horticultural Department (1880)

Let’s Make Botany Hip Again: Building Beal’s Botanical Laboratory, Part 1

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.

Photograph of the Botanical Laboratory circa 1885. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photograph of the Botanical Laboratory circa 1885. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

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.

Photograph of Beal with botany students in the laboratory 1880-1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photograph of Beal with botany students in the laboratory 1880-1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

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.

A page from a paper submitted by Frank J. Stahl, one of Beal’s botany students in 1886. The paper includes elaborate illustrations comparing and contrasting cells of white ash, pine, and oak. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

A page from a paper submitted by Frank J. Stahl, one of Beal’s botany students in 1886. The paper includes elaborate illustrations comparing and contrasting cells of white ash, pine, and oak. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

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.

References

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.

 

CAP Summer Work Update #2

Since we last checked in we’ve had a busy week and a half.  The Abbot entrance landscape rejuvenation project is coming to a close, so we’ve been able to finish work there and move onto testing other research questions.

U.S. Weather Bureau 

Although the rejuvenation construction was not directly impacting the north west corner of the Abbot entrance, I wanted to conduct a survey in this area so that we could consider the entire west side of the road surveyed.  The NW corner was home to the U.S. Weather Bureau.  The building was constructed in 1909 and demolished in 1948.  Dewey Seeley and his family occupied the building, while Mr. Seeley recorded daily weather data and provided forecasts for the area. As the campus, and East Lansing, grew around the Weather Bureau Mr. Seeley complained about the encroachment near the bureau.  He petitioned the federal government for the construction of a new weather bureau in a different location, and a new structure was built by the federal government on land leased by the college. That building is today known as the Wills House, located just west of Mayo Hall.  From 1927-1940 the old bureau building served as the music center, from 1940 to approx. 1943 it was the Works Progress Administration Headquarter, and finally the Placement Center until its destruction in 1948.

U.S. Weather Bureau - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

U.S. Weather Bureau – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The bureau was demolished by George Boone of Jackson MI, who paid the college $400 to remove the building.  Because Mr. Boone paid the college, rather than being paid by them, our investigation sought to discover how much of the weather bureau remained after he salvaged/scrapped the building.

Excavations at site of old U.S. Weather Bureau

Excavations at site of old U.S. Weather Bureau

We were unable to locate any intact foundation walls or floors.  However, a dense layer of rubble does cover that entire area.  Artifacts were mostly building related including bricks, nails, roofing slate, and concrete.  One curious artifact category were bricks made out of concrete, something we had not encountered before.  Two of the concrete bricks were sent to Civil Engineering for inspection.

Wall hanging cross found at U.S. Weather Bureau location

Wall hanging cross found at U.S. Weather Bureau location.

Lansing State Journal

While we were excavating the weather bureau a reporter from the Lansing State Journal came by to write a story on CAP.  We even made it on the cover of the journal!  The complete article, along with a short video, can be found on the journal’s website.

CAP in the Lansing State Journal

CAP in the Lansing State Journal

Beal’s Botanical Laboratory 

Beal's first Botanical Laboratory - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

Beal’s first Botanical Laboratory – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collection FLICKR

The location of Beal’s first botanical laboratory is marked with a large historical plaque.  We did some brief investigations in this area in 2009 or 2010, but aside from probing have just assumed that the building foundation was still present.  Earlier this week we opened three 1×1 units on the eastern edge of the grassy area to determine the extent of the foundations/artifact presence.  We were also trying to determine the orientation of the building.

 

Our excavations were exploratory in nature, and we limited the disturbance to three units.  One unit appears to be outside the extent of the buildings footprint, but two units located walls.

Excavations at Beal's Botanical Laboratory

Excavations at Beal’s Botanical Laboratory

Unit one locate a large field stone wall just below the modern ground surface.  This wall section ran almost due N/S (4 degrees), and was 80 cm in total height.  The wall was surrounded by sterile fill sand, most likely a builders trench from the construction of the building.  Interestingly, although this unit had melted glass, they did not have a burn layer.

Beal's Lab Excavations Unit One

Beal’s Lab Excavations Unit One

Unit two located a smaller, possibly interior, wall made of medium size cobbles with a mortar layer on top.  On one side of the wall was sterile fill sand, while the other side had a larger rubble and burn layer.  This unit also encountered large amounts of burned and cracked glass, as well as hand cut square nails.

Beal's Lab Excavation Unit Two

Beal’s Lab Excavation Unit Two

Finding these two walls, as well as discussing the presence of a third known wall with people that work in the Beal Botanical Garden, helps us better understand the orientation and current state of the structure.

Sources:

Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes October 21st, 1948: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-43F/meeting-minutes-october-21-1948/