Construction along Service Road in 2020 found a mid-20th-century midden. The artifacts found were associated with the history of temporary post-World War II student housing on Michigan State’s campus. After the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the GI Bill, became law, college enrollment increased …
During archaeological excavations, some of the most ubiquitous artifacts unearthed are ceramic sherds that were once part of bowls, plates, vases, or other decorative pieces. It is relatively easy to appreciate the skills and techniques that go into the creation of meticulously crafted ceramic vessels. …
The presence of international students on campus began early in MSU’s history. Not even two decades after MSU’s founding, four international students were enrolled for the fall semester in 1873. Two of these students were from Japan, one from Holland, and one from Canada . Since then, MSU has made a strong commitment to fostering international relationships with students from around the world. As of the Fall 2019 semester a total of 5,961 students from 129 different countries were enrolled at MSU. Additionally, international scholars and their dependent family members put the international student presence on campus at over 9,000 from 140 countries . Compared to the rest of the nation’s international student population, MSU ranked 11th for colleges with the most international students .
Below are gradient maps of the geographic origins of international students at MSU in the fall of 2019. The first map includes all the countries and US territories represented at MSU while the second map excludes China so as to show the differences from other nations better. Zoom in and hover over or click on a country to see the the number of students from that state enrolled at MSU. The lighter the color (the more yellow), the fewer the students are from that country while the darker the color (the more orange and red), the more students are from that country. Nations represented as just the satellite image indicates that no student from that country was enrolled at MSU in 2019 (excluding the US).
Although going to another country to get an education can be fun and enriching, it is no doubt stressful. Adjusting to your host country’s cultural norms (not to mention the cultural norms of US college students which is a microcosm of distinct customs!) while also trying to not lose those of your home country can be a tough negotiation of personal identities. With the added stress of a language barrier in some cases, it should be no surprise that there are numerous student groups on campus that cater to international students as a whole as well as groups focused on specific countries or cultures. At MSU, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) is an entity that helps students from foreign countries in adjusting and getting involved at MSU, making their time here as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.
While international students make up to 10% of the overall student population today, how can we as archaeologists unearth evidence of their lives and experiences on campus since the first international students began taking classes? The overwhelming majority of artifacts discovered by CAP on MSU’s campus were made for Western consumers. This means that when international students arrived and began living on campus, and depending on their country of origin, they may have begun using products and amenities that were unfamiliar to them.
An example of this is through institutional wares – a type of ceramic that was mass produced for repeated use at institutions; i.e. plates, bowls, and cups at campus dining halls. MSU-specific institutional wares have been found during CAP excavations, particularly in 2015 at the Gunson site and at the recent Service Road dump. A thick improved white stoneware plate with colorless glaze and three thin green stripes show that this sturdy plate was designed or purchased specifically for MSU and intended for repeated use. This plate was made by the Onondaga Pottery Company (a company known for producing institutional wares) out of Syracuse, NY around 1914. While this connection of a mass-produced plate to international student experiences may on the surface appear extraneous, it can act as a symbol for the pressures on international students to assimilate to American culture. In nineteenth and early-twentieth century America, ideas of proper citizenship were linked to, among other things, buying the proper products and eating ‘American’ foods.  (For more information on institutional wares at MSU, see Jeff Painter’s blog on the subject linked here.)
Upon this mostly undecorated plate would have been foods that the university provided for all students, regardless of their country of origin. Food is one of the strongest cultural ties that people have. By repeatedly consuming foods on these plates that international students were not used to, they were likely in conflict by eating American (or even Midwestern) foods as a way to fit in while also desiring the foods of their home culture. This is even discussed in a 1962 brochure from MSU titled “Housing Information For Foreign Students”:
“Foreign students will find quite a challenge in adapting themselves to American food and their way of eating. The residence halls, as much as possible, attempt to provide a reasonable variety of foods that should generally fill the needs of all individuals regardless of diet restrictions due to religious or national customs”. 
The point of on-campus dining was to provide students with what they needed, rather than what they may have necessarily wanted. This was likely a jarring culinary experience that would have made international students desirous of their own culture’s cuisine as the brochure later states:
“One major difference in the food is that Americans use lesser amounts of spices in their cooking. American food seems very bland to many foreign students”. 
The additional factor of “bland” American food would not have made the pressures towards assimilating into American culture any easier or even desirable! Today, MSU dining halls serve myriad types of food from many countries and cultures. Additionally, the large, year-round international student population in East Lansing meant that restaurants serving international cuisines also became common. The focus of the university now appears to be on inclusion and celebration of diversity, rather than assimilation. International students now have dining options that more closely resemble their home countries and can be in clubs and groups that cater to their cultural desires while also enjoying “American” amenities, giving them a richer and more rounded experience at MSU.
While on the surface, artifacts such as the green-striped MSU institutional ware plate may seem like just a dining hall plate, they represent the notion that people from vastly different backgrounds, countries, cultures, religions, etc. are all here at MSU to gain new experiences. Everyone eats. Cultural exchanges between students undoubtedly happen over the dining hall tables. It is important to remember that international students on campus may be “out of their element” compared to those born in the US. Understanding their point of view and having a dialogue about each other’s cultures (perhaps during a meal when the pandemic abates) will create greater respect and an overall more enjoyable experience for everyone.
 MSU Office of the Registrar – Geographical Source of Students – Foreign Countries (https://reg.msu.edu/roinfo/ReportView.aspx?Report=UE-GEOForeign)
 Camp, Stacey L., 2013, The Archaeology of Citizenship. University of Florida Press, Tallahassee, FL
 Housing Information For Foreign Students. Brochure, 1962. Courtesy of MSU Archives.
This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an …
So far this year, I have been examining the ceramics from various assemblages associated with early Michigan State. While I have looked at what types of dishes were present and how they were used, I have not looked at how these assemblages compare to other …
During this semester, I have been working through some of the decorated ceramics that were found in the Gunson assemblage (Find more information about the excavation here). Working toward the goal of generating a better picture of what types of vessels were found and the number of different stylistic types, I have been working on refitting the many decorated sherds that were found in this particular assemblage. Finally, I am nearing the end and am ready to present some of the results. But first, a bit of background.
Excavated in the summer of 2015 by a Campus Archaeology field school, this assemblage is one of the largest that CAP has ever excavated. Thousands of artifacts were found, ranging from ceramics to glassware, building materials, lab equipment, and a number of more personal items. Dating to the 1890’s thru the 1920’s, this assemblage is likely associated with the home of Thomas Gunson and his family, who lived on campus near this location. Of the many ceramic sherds recovered, most were plain whitewares, but some were decorated in many ways. A number of sherds had the thin green bands typical of industrial wares. Other, more delicate pieces, were plain whitewares with embossed rims or were whiteware or porcelain dishes with various colorful decorative motifs. For this project, I focused only those sherds with colorful decorative motifs.
Between the 100-200 sherds examined for this project, 56 different decorative designs were present. Few designs were repeated on more than one dish. While many different designs were represented, they fit into only a few different general categories. The vast majority of designs consisted of various types of floral patterns, while a few vessels contained geometric motifs, different everyday scenes, or were abstract designs formed by blocks or bands of color. These different designs were executed in a myriad of colors. While many were common blue-on-white or grey-on-white color schemes, many were multicolored, including tones of green, pink, yellow, blue, red, orange, or even black. Many dishes also had gold leaf/gilding present, either composing the entire design or as an accent on the edge of the vessel’s rim.
Of the many vessels represented in this assemblage, the vast majority were teacups, saucers, small plates, or fragments of serving dishes. Only a couple of the plates are large enough to be considered dinner plates. Based on their decorations, sizes, and vessel types, these dishes were clearly meant for entertaining, functioning as serving wares for drinks and light refreshments. In this context, they also would have been the dishes most likely to be broken.
In doing some archival research into Gunson’s background, it became a little clearer as to why his family may have owned and used so many different dishes for entertaining. Over his nearly 5 decades of service at MSU, Thomas Gunson, or “Uncle Tommy” as students would often call him, was a beloved part of campus life and frequently engaged with students, alumni, and local residents. According to small articles written about him in the M.A.C. Record, he was an outgoing individual with a flair for fashion and life, enjoying his time with students and others on campus. He was typically very well dressed, and his family home served as “a cosmopolitan haven for undergraduates and graduates alike” (M.A.C. Record vol. 46, no. 2, 1941). He was so well liked that he was considered by many to be a campus institution and returning alumni would often seek him out in order to reconnect with one of their favorite faculty members. As such a gregarious and fashionable man, it is not surprising that his home would be stocked with quality ceramics for entertaining his many visitors, with an emphasis on tea or other drinks that could be served during short social calls. If only, on a chilly day like this, we could go back in time and join Uncle Tommy for a cup of tea.
Author: Jeff Painter
1941 “Thomas Gunson, 1858-1940”. Vol. 46, no. 2, January.
Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. …
There are many different ways that we can date a site or specific artifact. We can look broadly at the contextual history of the area, look at how a glass bottle was constructed, or use construction material like nails to create broad date ranges. Specifically …
In Part 1, I introduced how porcelain is produced and its long history in Asia and Europe. Today, after centuries of history, porcelain finally comes to the Americas (what a surprise!). Porcelain first came to the Americas not long after it made its appearance in Europe in the 17th century. By the late 1600’s, porcelain became part of the colonial machine, brought over as part of the trans-Atlantic trade by many European powers. The demand for porcelain, like in Europe, was based in a desire to emulate the rich and powerful of European society. Especially for colonists, who were often portrayed as unsophisticated, owning porcelain was a way for them to prove that they could afford to maintain a fashionable household. It also helped to demonstrate that “they had risen beyond their colonial roots to achieve the status of sophisticated, cosmopolitan consumers of the 18th century” (Leath 1999:59). In colonial Charleston, for example, some wealthy colonists owned as much as £200 sterling or more in porcelain, which is worth over $44,000 today.
By the mid to late 1700’s, Chinese porcelain began to decline in popularity. By this time, European potters had perfected the production of porcelain and were able to produce it at a lower cost. They also were able to situate their porcelain within current Western traditions of style and aesthetics, such as the rising neoclassical movement. As access to porcelain had become more widespread, it also lost its favor with the European aristocracy. It was no longer a treasure that only the extremely rich could afford, so the aristocracy found new ways to materially establish their social position. Porcelain was now a sign of the upper middle-class, of those attempting to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Instead of Chinese porcelain, European porcelain, such as that made by Josiah Wedgwood, became the desired dishware of the day. Advances made by Wedgwood potters in both refining the materials needed and in mechanizing part of the manufacturing process helped to make Wedgwood ceramics a superior product that could be bought at a more affordable price. During the 1770’s, while the colonies of North America were on the verge of revolution, potters in Philadelphia also began to make “true” porcelain. Possibly produced by the short-lived American China Manufactory, porcelain was produced in the Americas in an attempt to become less reliant on imports from Europe.
The use of porcelain continued into the post-Civil War Gilded Age, a time of industrialization and major economic growth in the United States. During this time, the middle class was growing and people had more expendable wealth while, at the same time, certain items became less expensive, leading to consumerism as a method of demonstrating one’s social status. Not only did the purchase and use of desirable objects demonstrate a person or family’s wealth, but it also provided physical evidence of their skill and taste in the decorative arts, another means by which people judged one’s level of class and sophistication. While this conspicuous consumption of goods had taken place in the past, it reached rampant levels at this time and major portions of society took part. Porcelain, both as dining wares and as displayable vases or figurines, played a large role in this social consumerism.
It was during the Gilded Age that MSU had its beginning. For decades after the founding of the university, full-time faculty members lived on campus in homes built by the university on the north side of campus. What would become known as Faculty Row originally consisted of 4 houses, but by 1899 it included 12 faculty houses and an apartment building for non-tenured professors. In the late 1800’s, during the height of the Gilded Age, a number of faculty members lived in these buildings, just a short walk away from the dorms that housed their students. Given this close proximity and the smaller number of students and faculty at that time, many faculty would entertain students at their home. The Abbot’s especially entertained a number of students, often hosting regular receptions on Saturday nights and parties for special occasions. Aside from students, other faculty, staff, and members of the local community also likely attended some of these functions. Into the early 1900’s, faculty and staff continued to live on campus, both in Faculty Row and in other locations such as the Gunson/Bayha House farther south, but this would change as faculty began slowly moving into East Lansing at around this time.
As faculty were the social entertainers of the campus area and were enmeshed in the middle-class ideals of the Gilded Age, it is no surprise that they followed some tenets of the United States new found consumerism. While ceramics provided by the university for student use were affordable, undecorated stoneware, the faculty had more refined tastes. This taste can be seen archaeologically, as porcelain and other elaborately decorated ceramics reach their peak during the time when faculty commonly lived on campus. These ceramics would have been essential for entertaining within the fashions of the day, and they also helped establish the social class of the faculty. As I have argued in past blog posts, mealtimes and other events were also believed to be learning opportunities for students, a way to teach them about proper behavior and decorum. As such, it was important that these events be held in a proper environment stocked with fashionable and tasteful material culture that would guide the students in learning values appropriate for the middle class at that time.
Porcelain, while it had changed much over the centuries, continued to be a valued item. From 13th century China all the way to 19th century MSU, porcelain influenced cultures across the globe and became a major part of people’s lives. From its royal beginnings, porcelain traveled far and became a key aspect of the middle-class American culture that permeated the lives of students at early MSU.
Author: Jeff Painter
Campus Archaeology Project
2009 “Faculty Row: The Homes of MSU’s Founders” Online Exhibit
2010 The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History. University of California
Leath, Robert A.
1999 “After the Chinese Taste”: Chinese Export Porcelain and Chinoiserie Design in
Eighteen-Century Charleston. Historical Archaeology 33(3):48-61.
Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections
1868 Alfred G. Gulley Reminisces. UA17.107, Box 1140, Folder 7.
1875 R.P. Hayes Papers. Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 1140, Folder 12.
Mullins, Paul R., and Nigel Jeffries
2002 The Banality of Gilding: Innocuous Materiality and Transatlantic Consumption in the
Gilded Age. International Journal of Historic Archaeology 16:745-760.
2016 “Holy Grail of American Ceramics” Found in Dig at American Revolution Museum.
Online Resource, philly.com. http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/arts/Holy-Grail-
Shulsky, Linda R.
2002 Chinese Porcelain at Old Mobile. Historical Archaeology 36(1):97-104.
Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the …