In the wake of Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013 (Herstory 2020) and the mounting calls to reform and rethink institutions of all kinds, colleges and universities throughout the United States have responded by calling attention …
A fun fact for freshmen: if you live in Brody, you might be living in a dump. To be more specific, from the 1920s to the early 1950s, parts of the area now occupied by Brody Complex once served as the site of the City …
Here at CAP, we find artifacts of the past that are generally not meant to have been found (e.g. items from trash pits or ruined buildings or privies). In contrast, the scrapbooks curated by MSU Archives contain elements that students found so important that they preserved them in personal record books. The college used to give scrapbooks to students and while most of these did not end up in the University Archives collection, quite a few did. Flipping through these scrapbooks gives current students a glimpse into student life 100+ years ago and I must say the old adage is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same!
For my gendered landscapes project, I spent a lot of time looking through scrapbooks made by female students. While doing my search, I noticed some patterns. Grades were rarely, if ever, recorded. Instead, there are dance cards, photographs, drawings, sorority and literary club information, flyers for events, postcards from travels, and clippings from newspapers. When I went through the male scrapbooks last year, I found the same patterns (though, to be honest, much more emphasis on sports photos!). Initially, I started reviewing the scrapbooks to fill out some gaps in my gendered landscapes paper. I wanted to get a sense of how the female students might have experienced restrictions in movement around the campus, but what I started to realize was I had to do a lot of reading between the lines. Instead of looking for injustices or exclusionary actions, I started to focus on what the students focused on: what was important enough to record? Who is being photographed and why? Where do students like to hang out? Why is there little focus on any negative experience? Why are particular themes from newspaper clippings highlighted? What else was going on culturally, historically, and socially at the time of each scrapbook?
My biggest surprise was not in the female scrapbooks, but in the ones created by male students. I admit that I was expecting to see a lot of emphasis on sports and fraternities, and those themes were indeed very present. However, what I have found in scrapbooks made by both sexes was a seeming ability to find importance in courses that we might today label “female” or in courses that we might assume were filled with male students. Photos of women, (presumably enrolled in the Home Economics course of study offered to female students beginning in 1896) working in chemistry and biology laboratories were commonplace. Male students proudly scrapbooked their attempts at sewing and domestic arts, so we can assume that these courses were open and welcoming to men. The classroom, then, was not a site of restriction by sex.
It might not seem like a distinction worth discussing now since integrated classrooms have been part of a long campus tradition, but in the early years (precisely the ones we are interested in archaeologically) this integration cannot be assumed. It is especially useful for CAP to review these scrapbooks as we study the material culture of the past so that we do not overstate restrictions or underestimate the early campus experience. From these scrapbooks, we do see continued exclusions based on sex (try to find a woman in one of the sporting event pictures – it’s like trying to find Waldo!) but not to the extent that we might think. The scrapbooks, while fun to go through, also teach us a valuable lesson in using all data sources to best approximate the reality of the past.
The University Archives occasionally posts about the scrapbooks – visit their site and search for the tag “scrapbooks”: https://msuarchives.wordpress.
Last summer CAP discovered the foundation/basement of a building known as Station Terrace. This building had many different uses during its approximately 40 years on campus (it was moved off campus in the early 1920s). It housed researchers from the experimental stations, served as bachelor …
This is the second entry of a two-part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of State Agricultural College, now Michigan State University, and the climate and culture of college life in the first …
This is the first entry of a two part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of Michigan Agricultural College, and the climate and culture of college life in the first decade of 1900s. The first part below introduces Myrtle and some of her early experiences on campus as an African American woman. The second blog discusses her within the larger experiences of African American students across the country.
Myrtle Craig arrived at MAC in 1902 as a sub-freshman in the Woman’s Program. She would learn domestic sciences as a coed on campus. While Myrtle has the distinction of being the first African American woman to arrive on campus, her story is not unique. When viewed from a historical perspective Myrtle’s significance demonstrates broader change in the country. It highlights racial tensions and conversations that university students and administrators, as well as governmental bodies, were working out on a national scale at the turn of the twentieth century, and in some places, still to this day.
While it is difficult for modern students to envision restrictions put on students in the past, it is even more difficult to conceive of what campus life would have been like for Myrtle. For Myrtle Craig, like African American students who had the elite privilege of attending university at the dawn of the twentieth century, campus was one more place of segregation and discrimination. In 1896, the same year the Woman’s Program began at MAC, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation in public facilities across the US was legal. The “separate but equal” ruling also applied to college campuses. Myrtle would not have the right to eat with her classmates or sleep in the shared dorm, bathe in the bathhouse, attend social functions, and was most likely excluded from the privy we found last summer during CAP excavations. She was restricted from participating in campus life simply because she was a different race. Her ability to pay her way, scholastic aptitude, and gender did not protect her from the federal laws of racial segregation of the time. She was, by federal law, not allowed to participate in the college experience outside the confines of the classroom.
Myrtle arrived at MAC in 1902, at a time when there were very few women on campus. The university had only recently started to incorporate white women on campus through the formation the Women’s Program and the construction of Morrill Hall (a dedicated space for female students). In previous blogs I have addressed the physical restriction of women on campus; we know that all females were limited in their usage of the overall campus and chaperones were required for women to walk the campus grounds. Also, most of female students’ activities were restricted to Morrill Hall. Here, women ate together in the dining clubs, studied in the library, slept in their dorms and lived in unity. Nonetheless, as an African American woman, Myrtle would have been forbidden from these activities and spaces.
MAC however, had a different plan for Myrtle as well as the three other students of color on campus at the time. Historical documents from MSU Archives reveal that during her first two years as a student, she boarded with Addison Brown, a secretary for the college, and Professor Newman, an assistant professor of drawing and design in mechanical engineering. It is unclear why these two were chosen. Brown, a long serving secretary, was a part of the college during the formation of the Women’s Program. Newman, a founder of the city of East Lansing, also helped found the People’s Church which still stands today. These circumstances may have been why these two were selected to accommodate Myrtle on campus. Either way, MAC saw to it that she had manageable accommodations, despite federal laws to the contrary.
Within these conditions, Myrtle paid for her room, board, and tuition through cosmetology services and as a domestic. We can tentatively link Myrtle to CAP through artifacts given the potential roles she had on campus. While we do not have direct archaeological evidence for Myrtle’s experience, it is interesting to note that we have found examples of women’s cosmetics throughout campus. The making and preparing of food is read in the archaeological record through historical artifacts like butchered animal bone and old plates and dishware. While further research is needed to establish data linked to Myrtle, she was a part of the female body on campus and involved in these trades. We can use the historical archives information and the presence of these artifacts to conclude that she likely left some of these items behind as well.
A century later, Myrtle’s imprint is more than an archaeological tale. This photograph was found in a student scrapbook and we are speculating that Myrtle is pictured at left.
There are a handful of other photographs of her, but they are all staged. This is a candid picture snapped during a class outing in 1907. If this is indeed Myrtle, she is pictured here as engaged with her friends, an active participant in college life regardless of the norm of segregation. With this potentially candid photo, and later enquiries from fellow graduates, we can infer friendships and bonds did develop as Myrtle traversed campus life to become an Aggie!
Myrtle’s story, shared by many other’s across the country at the time, reminds us of the strides and strife of developing an inclusive and diverse campus. When Myrtle returned to campus as an adult in the latter half of the century, she considered how MSU had developed with the installation of Clifford Wharton, the first African American president of a major public university. Follow Part 2 of our blog for a glimpse into some of the experiences Myrtle shared with her coeds and faculty and how these experiences reverberated throughout the country.
For the past year, I have been investigating the gendered landscape of the historic campus. University Archives keeps the scrapbooks made by past female students and we can find newspaper clippings detailing female exploits on campus, but until recently it has remained fairly difficult to …
For the past several months, CAP fellow Amy Michael and I have been preparing a presentation for the UMass Amherst Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values conference about gendered landscapes on MSU’s campus. What is a gendered landscape, you ask? A landscape can be considered “gendered” …
The following is my first blog post for the Broad Art Museum Writing Residency program. We were given articles on “mediascape” and landscape and instructed to consider these works in conversation with Trevor Paglen’s artwork (referenced in my intro blog post about the residency) and our own research projects:
As a Biological Anthropology student interested in the prehistoric and recent past, I spend a lot of time thinking about how physical bodies (e.g. burials, ancestors, modern peoples) fit into a geographic and cultural landscape that persists through time. Paglen’s “experimental geography” (in addition to the assigned readings) has galvanized me to think about both archaeology and views of landscape in more sophisticated and creative ways.
Paglen has discussed his interest in “the line that separates vision from knowledge,’ acknowledging that material evidence does not often come to the forefront of his work (a particularly bold admission for this data-loving science student to read!). Rather, his images provide the foundation for a conversation, a questioning of the limits of knowledge, and an examination of how and why those limits came to be drawn. How can I, a student studying the prehistoric and recent past, apply these ideas to other cultures and peoples?
From an archaeologist’s perspective, these themes are present in prehistory in every complex hierarchical culture. However, the issue of material evidence is a very real and pressing concern; in fact, it is the end goal. I cannot imagine a field season in which I came home with no artifacts (no “evidence”). Jonathon Crary, writing in Techniques of the Observer (1990:32), stated that, “by the beginning of the nineteenth century the camera obscura is no longer synonymous with the production of truth and with an observer positioned to see truthfully.” Further, Crary wrote, “Vision can be privileged at different historic moments in ways that simply are not continuous with one another” (57).
Both Crary and Paglen touch on the reproduction of vision and its (potential) disassociation with truth and linear time; that is a truly revolutionary idea to me at this moment in my graduate program! Paglen’s work has made me begin to question how I operate as a scientist and how I envision research projects. Can I too explore the “line that separates vision from knowledge”? Perhaps. What I find most appealing is that Paglen does not provide us with a full story, but instead baits us and lets us debate, deconstruct, and deny or accept the photograph or installation.
Surveillance of, rather than documentation of, the landscape appears to be a main thrust of Paglen’s work. Access to the landscape (who gets it and how) is a resonant theme across time, geography, and culture; access and restriction are themes that crop up constantly in my archaeological research. The names, places, and cultures may change but the architecture of constraint occurs through time and space. Paglen seems interested in those structures and operations that are essentially hidden in plain sight; that is, their existence is not shrouded but their details are. This idea of conspicuous invisibility evokes a power dynamic that one is hard-pressed not to take personally: there are spaces in the country that, no matter your position, you do not have the right to physically access.
This residency program has made me reconsider the ways in which I think about studying landscape, especially at the historical level here on campus where we have written records and access to archaeological materials. While restriction and constraint have always been at the front of my mind in considering this gender research, I concede that I have thought often about these themes from only one perspective or dimension. Drawing on contemporary art and “experimental geography” to critically think about the organization of campus, in addition to the archaeological and historical materials available through CAP and University Archives, will help me to better form an anthropological inquiry into the female experience in the years past at Michigan State University.
Considering a Cognitive Landscape – Restriction, Constraint, and Surveillance in the Creation of Boundaries
In my last blog, I detailed the Broad Art Museum writing residency program that I will participate in this semester. We had our first meeting with the faculty members (from many different departments!) and fellows last week. Throughout the course of the meeting, we listened …