Beauty Junk(ies): Cosmetics from the East Lansing City Dump

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 of East Lansing garbage dump. Campus Archaeology investigated a portion of this site during construction near Brody in 2009 and the Emmons Amphitheater in 2011. The large number of artifacts recovered includes everything from food containers to medicines to cleaning products, providing insight into various aspects of East Lansing life during this period.

One category of artifacts that caught my interest includes several cosmetic and hair care products. As a regular makeup user (maybe she got enough sleep, maybe it’s Maybelline) I thought it would be interesting to research these objects and learn about beauty standards and cosmetic use in this era. For this week’s blog post, I focused on three cosmetic items from the Brody/Emmons site that were most likely marketed to and used by women. To provide some historical context for these artifacts, I researched how attitudes toward cosmetics have changed over time, how these attitudes might have affected the availability and forms of cosmetic products, and thought about how this might be reflected in the archaeological record.

In the 18th century, both men and women of the upper class wore makeup (1). Heavy paints and rouges helped to smooth complexions often marred by pockmarks. By the 19th century, however, changing gender norms and beauty standards made it socially unacceptable for men and women to paint their faces (1). For men, the use of cosmetics began to be seen as effeminate (2). For women, conspicuous makeup was considered vulgar due to its association with prostitution. Few cosmetics were commercially manufactured during this time. Instead, cosmetics were mixed at home and applied discreetly to achieve a “natural” look (1). Therefore, we can expect few commercial cosmetics from this era in the archaeological record.

The 20th century brought about another about-face (no pun intended) in attitudes. The influences of Hollywood and flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear conspicuous makeup (3). By the 1940s, makeup became not just acceptable but a key aspect of feminine identity (3). As women entered the workforce during World War II, bold makeup—particularly lipstick—helped signal femininity and counterbalance the short hairstyles and masculine clothing worn by female workers (1). This era of increased social acceptance, burgeoning production, and conspicuous consumption of cosmetic products frames the context of the Brody/Emmons artifacts and helps us think about how gendered ideals of beauty may have influenced what the people of East Lansing purchased and how they presented themselves.

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

One of the cosmetic items recovered from the East Lansing dump is a makeup compact case that still contains a white powder puff and the remnants of a pinkish powder. This compact case provides an excellent example of the advent of conspicuous makeup consumption.

Before makeup gained widespread acceptance, cosmetic cases were hidden inside accessories such as walking sticks and jewelry for their owners to access discreetly when outside of the home (4). As it was unacceptable to wear makeup, it was also unacceptable to be seen applying it. Over time, both the use and application of makeup gained social presence and acceptability. Suffragettes of the 1910s applied lipstick in public to shock men (3). Flappers of the 1920s wore heavy makeup and made a show of applying it (3). Beautifully decorated, mirrored compacts became fashionable accessories to be pulled out in public and shown off like cigarette cases or purses (4).

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Makeup compact recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

The CAP compact represents such an accessory. Roughly teardrop shaped, made of a silver metal, and decorated on the outside with a geometric line pattern, the compact likely once held a mirror inside the top lid. The compact was refillable, as most compacts were until disposable plastic cases became the norm in the 1960s (5). The user would have filled a thin compartment in the makeup compact with loose powder, compressing it in place with an inner lid that snapped shut. Powder was applied with a thin cotton puff that fit between the mirror and the powder compartment (5).


Pond's cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Pond’s cold cream ad from 1946. Image source.

Another cosmetic product in the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a jar of Pond’s cold cream. Cold cream is a product made of an emulsion of wax, oil, and water that for centuries was made in the home (6). Around the turn of the century, commercially produced cold creams became available that boasted longer shelf lives than their homemade counterparts. As makeup use increased in the 20th century, these cold creams were marketed to women as a means of removing powders, lipsticks, rouges, and the rest of the makeup they were sold (6).

CAP’s cold cream jar is made of opaque white milk glass with the brand name, “Pond’s,” embossed on the bottom. The jar looks very similar to images of the product appearing in advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s (6,7). These ad campaigns show how cosmetics were marketed to women as means of attracting men. The slogan “She’s engaged! She’s lovely! She uses Pond’s!” accompanied by pictures of beautiful women and their equally beautiful engagement rings sent the clear message that women needed to use cosmetics to achieve a certain standard of beauty necessary to win husbands.

Pond's cold cream jar recovered from Brody

Pond’s cold cream jar recovered from Brody

The third item I examined from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a clear, circular, glass perfume bottle decorated with concentric circles and embossed with “DeVilbiss” on its base. The embossing indicates the bottle predates the 1940s, as the company replaced bottle stamping with paper labels in the 1940s (8).

DeVilbiss perfume bottle recovered from Emmons Amphitheater

Like makeup compacts, perfume bottles of this era were refillable, decorative, and intended for display (9). The DeVilbiss name comes not from the perfume itself, but from the manufacturer of the atomizer. Dr. Allen DeVilbiss initially invented an atomizing spray nozzle to deliver throat medicines in 1887. In 1907, the atomizer was introduced to the perfume industry with great success. DeVilbiss Manufacturing Company produced perfume atomizers at its factory in Toledo, Ohio from 1907 to 1968, selling as many as 1.5 million per year during its peak years in the 1920s and 30s (9). Like other cosmetic products, perfume was also marketed with sexual and romantic overtones. Perfumes with names like “Mantrap” and “Irresistible” were marketed as product that increased women’s sexual desirability. Perfume was also marketed as an item that men were supposed to gift women: a 1929 ad for DeVilbiss perfume atomizers reads, “Ask her, she’ll say she wants a perfume spray” (9).

The cosmetic products in the Brody/Emmons trash dump provided an interesting opportunity to explore gendered artifacts and think about how these objects reflect the social norms of the era. If you enjoyed this blog post, my next post will focus on hair care products from the same trash dump that were likely marketed to and used by men. In the meantime, be sure to check out other CAP blog posts on personal grooming items like the beard comb found at the privy site and the nail polish bottle topper from the Gunson trash pit.


  4. Loalbo, S. 2009. Vintage Fashion Accessories. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
  6. – 1951 ad
  7.–cold-cream-mad-men.jpg – 1940s ads
  9. (ad)

Paste and the Past: Scrapbooks as a Source for Understanding Campus Culture

Cover of scrapbook. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Cover of scrapbook #50. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

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!

some fraternity shenanigans (Scrapbook #57) Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Some fraternity shenanigans (Scrapbook #57)Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

scrapbook made by male student with "classroom boneheads" (Scrapbook #47). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Scrapbook made by male student with “classroom boneheads” (Scrapbook #47). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

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?

Felt MAC letters sewn by male student (Scrapbook #331). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Felt MAC letters sewn by male student (Scrapbook #331). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“The Art of Fancy Work” student project inside Hugh Irvin Glazier’s scrapbook #350. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“The Art of Fancy Work” student project inside Hugh Irvin Glazier’s scrapbook #350. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

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.

Styles of scrapbooks change, but this is a popular style for a few years (first two pages) (Scrapbook #320). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Styles of scrapbooks change, but this is a popular style for a few years (first two pages) (Scrapbook #320). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

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.

The Flower Pot Tea Room: A Female-Run Student Business on the Early Campus

Station Terrace - Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Station Terrace – Photo courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

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 faculty housing, rented space for East Lansing’s first post office, was a waiting room for the trolley line, and contained the female student run Flower Pot Tea Room. Station Terrace is a unique opportunity to examine a space on campus that transitioned from a male only building, to a female run business.

Early female students often get dismissed in history as just on campus for the “Mrs.” degree or disparaged for seeking a Home Economics degree that may not be understood as a legitimate course of study. A look through the archives dispels that narrative immediately, as female students at Michigan Agricultural College were held to high standards in the past and had an active role in creating and maintaining the college campus. At MSU, the Home Economics course was designed as a domestic science with the learning spaces as laboratories. A look at the Course of Study for Women at M.A.C. shows that women’s schedules were packed!

List of courses in women's studies. MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23.

List of courses in women’s studies. MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23.

The domestic sciences were considered quite important at the college and women were tasked with the responsibilities of preparing meals for high-ranking visitors. A M.A.C. Record article written by a student and titled, “Our Cooking Laboratory” from 1897 noted that women at Abbot Hall served the members of the State Board whenever they visited the college. It appears that their creativity was encouraged, as their professor allowed them to create the appetizers and desserts for the meals to show off their progress and skills. It should be noted, too, that the cooking laboratory was exclusively the domain of female students – it is here where they experimented, measured, tested, and prepared food. It is interesting that the women refer to the space as a laboratory!

Women in Physics Lab c. 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Women in Physics Lab c. 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

By 1912, the M.A.C. was hosting nearly month-long workshops called the Graduate School of Home Economics. An article in the M.A.C. record noted that courses in the chemistry of textiles and the physiology of the cell were scheduled alongside the principles of jelly making and costume design. Clearly the business of Home Economics is more varied than perhaps we assume.

Women looking through microscope c. 1919. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Women looking through microscope c. 1919. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

During WWI, current and former students of the Home Economics program supported the war effort by putting on popular demonstrations of canning and food storage. The science of home economics was well-established on campus, but the transition into business management did not come until 1921 with the opening of the Flower Pot tea room (at least, this is the earliest record that we have found). MSU has a long tradition of student-run business and emphasis on entrepreneurship (in fact, modern Spartans even have the opportunity to compete for start-up funds for their businesses through a number of the colleges on campus!). The Flower Pot tea room can be understood in the history of this student-oriented business tradition, though it initially started as a alumni-owned shop. The proceeds from the tea room were allocated for the home management houses, but by 1922 the small building was taken over by the Institutional Management class of the Home Economics department. The tea room was initially run out of an old shed behind Old Horticulture, but in the fall of 1921 it was moved into Station Terrace.

An M.A.C. Record article from 1922 describes the space as, “an admirable laboratory,” likely referencing the “experiment” of having students operate the tea room and prepare all the food. In 1923 it appears that they attempted to move the tea room off campus, but it returns to Station Terrace and the alumni had relinquished their stake in the business. CAP has excavated portions of Station Terrace and will return this summer to continue exploring this space. The use life of Station Terrace is exciting for CAP to investigate, as the space was originally the province of males exclusively – in fact, it was a bachelor house! The transition from bachelor housing to female-operated tea room business in a fairly short period of time gives us clues about the expanding role of females on the historic campus. Stay tuned for more from Station Terrace as excavations get underway this May as part of the 2017 CAP field school.



MAC Record, 1896, Vol 1, Number 23

MAC Record 1921, Vol 26, Number 34

MAC Record 1921, Vol 27, Number 5

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 14

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 18

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 25

MAC Record, Vol 27, Number 26

MAC Record, Vol 28, Number 16

Myrtle Craig: Race, Gender, and a Changing Nation

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 decade of 1900s. The first part here introduces Myrtle and some of her early experiences on campus as an African American woman. The second blog below discusses her within the larger experiences of African American students across the country.

Morrill Hall Dinning Room. Courtesy of MSU Archives

Morrill Hall Dinning Room. Courtesy of MSU Archives

Myrtle Craig was the first Black woman to graduate from MSU (known as the State Agricultural College when she attended). Her experiences at the college can help us understand college life for African Americans across the country at the turn of the century. As we discussed in part one of this blog, campus life for African American students across the country was much more difficult than we can imagine. With federal laws barring integrated food and accommodation spaces, education at predominantly white institutions often resulted in extremely difficult learning environments for students of color. The changing country was facing technological and social changes that structured the rest of the 20th century. Within the first ten years of the twentieth century, the Ford Motor Company was built and the Wright brothers first took flight. Additionally, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed as a result of the Niagara Falls convention and President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the organization of the FBI. The country was undergoing radical cultural and social change and so was MSU.


Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute.

Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute. Courtney of MSU Archives.

At the turn of the century, President Johnathon Snyder, along with other coeds from the college had witnessed two major shifts in American culture: a lessened focus on agriculture education and the end of Reconstruction. These two major events created a shift in technology and demographics throughout the country which required new approaches to social support and advancement in the US. The M.AC. Record chronicled student perspectives perspectives; archival evidence demonstrates that students were eager to understand how the college community could integrate itself with the changing social fabric of the country. “Our Colored Brother… Perhaps one of the most widely discussed problem,” wrote one alum as he championed the role higher education could play in assisting the transition between slavery and freedom (Westover, 1899 M.A.C Record Vol 5. 11).

President Snyder addressed these concerns by soliciting the council of Booker T. Washington, then president of the prestigious Tuskegee Institute established in 1881 in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute was one of several colleges and universities established by the Second Morrill Act that ensured education for African descendants barred from existing land grant institutions. Snyder and Washington probably became colleagues as a result of their shared interests in the scientific study of agricultural practices (pers. comm., MSU History Professor Pero Dagbovie). In 1899, President Snyder invited President Washington to give the MAC commencement address but it was delayed one year. In 1900, President Washington addressed the commencement crowd at the armory with a speech titled, “Solving the Negro Problem in the Black Belt of the South” (M.A.C. Record Vol. 5 No. 39).

President Snyder's reference letter for Myrtle Craig to Booker T. Washington. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

President Snyder’s reference letter for Myrtle Craig to Booker T. Washington. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

Upon graduation there were very few roles for women, particularly Black women with bachelor’s degrees. Archival documents from President Snyder suggest that Myrtle had two specific options: teach domestic science or domestic art. President Snyder’s personal recommendation letters for Myrtle, one to a generic audience and one to his long standing colleague, President Washington described Myrtle as “level headed,” further noting that she “has the confidence of her teachers and associates.”

 These abilities would carry Myrtle far. Throughout the course of her life, she would take a path similar to many women who achieved the Bachelors degree in Home Economics. Myrtle chose to return to Missouri and taught at several colleges, high schools, and universities in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Eventually she married George Mowbray and became a sorority member of Delta Sigma Theta, a black woman’s social organization. Myrtle retired from Lincoln University, the black land grant institution of Missouri, as a faculty member in domestic sciences. The few details that we can gather from Myrtle’s time here at MSU and beyond help us to understand how race and gender shapes experiences and outcomes of higher education. During the era of Jim Crow segregation, Myrtle Craig’s story demonstrates the entanglement of these race and gender and the triumphs and struggles of a changing nation.

Myrtle Craig newsletter from MSU Alumni Magazine. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

Myrtle Craig newsletter from MSU Alumni Magazine. Courtesy of MSU Archives.

Myrtle Craig: Artifacts, Race, and Gender at Michigan Agricultural College

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 Portrait

Myrtle Craig Portrait – Image on

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.

Female class of 1907

Female class of 1907 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

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.

Female students in dorm

Female students in dorm – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

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.

Myrtle Craig at class outing, 1907

Myrtle Craig at class outing, 1907 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives

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.

An Examination of Gendered Space Through Glass, Ceramics, and the Occasional Doll Head

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 “see” women in the archaeological record. Of course we know women lived, worked, and studied at MSU throughout the years, but why is their archaeological imprint so invisible?

Perfume bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage

Perfume bottle from the Admin/Gunson assemblage

This summer CAP field school students excavated a deposit believed to be connected to the Gunson House. The amount of materials culled from the site was incredible! I have spent the past month going through the many bags in the lab and selecting the glass and ceramic artifacts that appear to be those most exclusively used and belonging to women. We know that the house became a women’s home management home after Professor Gunsons death. We also know that the Gunson house was likely home to some pretty fancy dishware as Professor Gunson and his wife were known to throw parties. The number of different patterns of plates, cups, and bowls, however, was surprising even given this knowledge.

"Lu 1905" souvenir glass from the admin/Gunson assemblage

“Lu 1905” souvenir glass from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Some examples of artifacts found at the site are included below. A definite feminine theme unites the assemblage as perfume bottles, doll parts, delicate glassware, and ornate dinnerware are pervasive throughout. Perhaps most interesting was the souvenir glass artifact with the “Lu…” and “1905” inscription. Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I hypothesized that this was a personalized piece belonging to Lutie Gunson, the second wife of Professor Gunson (and housekeeper to the home when the first Mrs. Gunson was still alive!). This is the first piece of personalized material found in the assemblage so far. It was exciting to link an historical person with this assemblage!


Doll head from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Doll head from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Ceramic fragment from admin/Gunson assemblage

Ceramic fragment from admin/Gunson assemblage











Floral print and gilded ceramic fragments from the admin/Gunson assemblage

Floral print and gilded ceramic fragments from the admin/Gunson assemblage


Figure from admin/Gunson assemblage

Figure from admin/Gunson assemblage

Identifying Gendered Space in MSU’s Past

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

Makeup containers found at Brody Complex

Makeup containers found at Brody Complex

about gendered landscapes on MSU’s campus. What is a gendered landscape, you ask? A landscape can be considered “gendered” if there are discrete areas where accessibility is restricted between women and men. The purpose of our presentation is to determine whether or not we can predict which spaces on campus were used and maintained specifically by women using archaeological material recovered during CAP excavations. In addition to physical artifacts like shoes, buttons, and perfume bottles, we have utilized archival materials such as photographs, journals, and scrapbooks created by female students and preserved at MSU’s University Archives.

It is difficult to accurately identify gendered space based solely on material evidence. This is due mostly to the fact that the campus itself has changed considerably over time. That is, artifacts that may be associated with a gendered space are not necessarily recovered from those areas restricted to gendered use. To date, that vast majority of archaeological evidence for gender has been recovered from trash pits and shovel test sites. Because these assemblages are comprised of discarded materials, it is impossible to determine where they came from and therefore, impossible to predict which artifacts could be associated with a specific space on campus.

Women pose at the WWII Victory Garden, circa 1940s. courtesy MSU Archives

Women pose at the WWII Victory Garden, circa 1940s. courtesy MSU Archives

Archival evidence has allowed us to determine which areas of campus were frequented by women such as Morrill Hall. Morrill Hall was originally used as a women’s dormitory, as well as holding classes and a gymnasium. Photographic evidence and student journals have informed us that other areas, such as the Victory Gardens and the Red Cedar River were commonly used as meeting places for female students. Artifact evidence from these areas is lacking, however, due to the demolition of Morrill Hall, cleaning of the landscape around the Victory Gardens, and natural processes such as erosion along the banks of the Red Cedar River.

Morrill Hall, early 1900s. Courtesy MSU Archives

Morrill Hall, early 1900s. Courtesy MSU Archives

One issue we seek to address is to determine how the overlapping or intrusion of female spaces into areas traditionally reserved for male students affected interactions between women and men on campus. What were the reactions to these changing landscapes? Further, we seek to understand whether female students largely remained in those areas reserved specifically for them, or if there were alternative opportunities for wider access to campus (even in the face of university or social restrictions). Finally, we hope to identify and understand which types of material evidence, if any, recovered by Campus Archaeology can be considered gendered.

“Mediascape” and Landscape: Thinking About Gendered Spaces in Contemporary and Past Populations

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 to lectures on the artist/experimental geographer Trevor Paglen (see his website at as well as on the history of landscape art. Coming from a physical anthropology/archaeology perspective, nearly every bit of information was new to me. I had a great time! When the meeting concluded, we were given readings on the theme of “landscape and mediascape” to read and write about. At first when I sat down to tackle the readings, I did so with the science-minded framework I’m used to – locate the research question(s), identify the data, review the discussion and interpretation. I quickly discovered this approach will not work with these readings or this museum project (or anything related to this residency!). I spend a lot of time thinking about landscapes to be sure – mortuary landscapes and how biological data fits in and on them in my dissertation research; gendered landscapes and how female students operated in and on them in my CAP research – but I had never thought about the visual process of creating and maintaining knowledge of a landscape. I believe this contemporary art perspective will be not only a great challenge to adapt to (and see my own work from and within), but will also give me new and innovative ways through which to address archaeological landscapes and data.

Trevor Paglen is interested in what can most easily be termed a “classified landscape” (those areas that, through military force, are considered off limits or even non-existent). Though the mechanisms are different through time and space, this theme of restriction is present in all archaeological research. There are always spaces that are restricted for complex combinations of social, political, and economic reasons that are shaped by a host of cultural factors. I’m working hard to digest Paglen’s work while also relating it to my own – I believe the uniting theme will be that we are both searching for information that is, in part, “hidden in plain sight.” Paglen is examining the military installations and drones that we know exist but are not able to see, or the government buildings that are outwardly visible to the public but absolutely restricted in access (point of fact – Paglen published the second known photo of the National Security Administration, a highly visible space with invisible activities). I am examining the campus past that is under the ground we walk on, in the buildings we enter, and preserved in the records on campus. The past is here right in front of or below us, but it’s hidden. It straddles that visible/invisible line.

Below I will share my first attempts at my first blog entry for the Broad Art Museum writing residency. I hope that readers of this CAP blog will think about these themes of surveillance, restriction, and constraint (all addressed in Paglen’s work) in terms of your own archaeological interests or research.

In a 2013 interview with the Center for the Study of the Drone, Paglen 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. 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. Because Paglen’s subject matter is defined by secrecy, constraint, and restriction by various government entities, he seeks to examine, at least in part, the mechanisms by which this secrecy is created, reproduced, and legitimized. The products of this state-sponsored secrecy are the “blank spots on the map” (per Paglen’s book by the same title). How are these spots designed and engineered, and by whom? Why do we, the public, respect these boundaries? Why do we accept secrecy as a precondition to our safety? What of those secrets that are not particularly “secret” at all yet still hindered by underreporting or selective invisibility? How does a general, yet amorphous, knowledge that secrecy exists – in some place, some plane, some form unknown to us – colonize the public thought?

From an archaeologist’s perspective, these themes are present in history and prehistory in every complex hierarchical culture. But, Paglen’s raises an interesting question: Does material evidence make what we know (or think we know) about a landscape more “real”? Does absence of evidentiary material matter? How can we fill in the gaps? These are questions that archaeologists have always considered in their work.

In the Center for the Study of the Drone interview Paglen stated that, “…the images are taken from so far away, through so much dust and haze and heat, that while it’s a photograph of a site, it’s also a photograph of what it looks like when you’ve pushed the physical properties of your vision as far as they will go. It’s a photograph of a place, but it’s literally a photograph of what it looks like when your physical capacity to see collapses, or begins to collapse.” I related this quote directly to archaeology! While Paglen is discussing the difficulties in seeing and documenting real-time objects or events on the visible, horizontal landscape,             archaeologists are wrestling with these same issues on a (usually) invisible, vertical plane (sometimes many feet below the current ground surface).

Campus Archaeology at the Broad Art Museum: Exploring Gendered Spaces in a Conceptual Writing Residency Program

I am pleased to announce that I was accepted to the Spring 2015 Writing Residency program at the Broad Art Museum (support by the Department of English and the Graduate School as well). Five other graduate students from the departments of English, Film Studies, and Digital Rhetoric will be participating in the program that connects the upcoming exhibition by artist Trevor Paglen to MSU students. Per the residency announcement, I will be “encouraged to investigate the broader themes of spatial theory, technological impacts on landscape, experimental geography, and the mapping and mediation of public and private spheres as they are played out in the exhibition and as they relate to visual arts practices.”

In addition to a public talk at the Broad and the creation of a blog regarding themes of landscape and land use, I will also put together a final project. I am excited to explore the intersection between anthropology and contemporary art, especially in the fantastic museum space on campus. We will also be expected to “facilitate connections between visual and verbal media in the hopes of expanding on residents’ already existing writing practice.”

From the Broad website about artist Trevor Paglen:

“For the past eight years New York–based social scientist, artist, writer, and provocateur Trevor Paglen has been publishing, speaking, and making remarkable photographs about the secret “black ops” activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Blurring the lines between the intersecting discourses of science, contemporary art, and journalism, his meticulously researched work exposes the ways in which we see and interpret the world.

The Genres: Landscape featuring Trevor Paglen is the third and final installment of the Broad MSU’s exhibition series The Genres: Portraiture, Still Life, and Landscape. Each installment features a single artist who is emerging as a significant voice in contemporary artistic discourse and whose work has reinvented, reworked, or re-engaged one of these three traditional genres of Western art history. Paglen’s practice provides a critical lens on today’s socio-political landscape, utilizing photography as both a political tool and a performative act. He creates large-format prints that raise and respond to questions of mediated perception, both engaging with the grand tradition of early twentieth-century landscape photography and moving steadfastly into the most contemporary of realms.”


You can view the artist’s website here:

Trevor Paglen’s focus on military space and geographic access to locales used by the Pentagon (“classified landscapes” in his words) may be an interesting juxtaposition to the mediated landscapes of MSU’s past. Different in scale and function, these two landscapes nonetheless share some commonalities: namely, restricted access and tiered use tied to status.

I have copied my residency application below. I look forward to expanding this archaeology project throughout the semester!

For the past year, I have been researching gendered use of space on the historic Michigan State campus under the Campus Archaeology Program (CAP). CAP acts as a steward of this past, mitigating and protecting the cultural heritage of the university through archaeological and archival research. CAP organizes campus history into four temporal phases beginning with the inception of MSU in 1855 (Phase 1: 1855-1875; Phase 2: 1875-1900; Phase 3: 1900-1925; Phase 4: 1925-1955). These divisions help to categorize archaeological finds, but also reflect periods of social, spatial, and historical change both locally and nationally. Women were admitted to the college fairly early on, though acceptance and recognition both on campus and in the greater community was gradual. I am interested in resolving issues of gendered interaction with the historic landscape and general invisibility of female student experience (both in private and public arenas), which articulates well with the Broad Residency themes. My project addresses a historically understudied yet integral portion of MSU’s past campus culture by blending archaeological spatial theory, artifact analysis, and historical narratives.

Gendered use of the early campus landscape is somewhat ephemeral; facts about admission, dorm space, and women’s programs are known, but the female experience is largely absent from the historical record. Women were present on the historic campus, though they were essentially an appendage of a male-dominated educational system. While the university began to systematically admit female students in 1870, East Lansing was still geographically isolated and transportation via stagecoach to the fledgling college was arduous. Early female students boarded with faculty and attended the same classes as men; scrapbooks and journals reveal that women often felt constraint both academically and spatially as the college slowly acted to create specifically female spaces. Enrollment did not increase significantly until 1896 when the college began to consciously plan for female education; in that year, a Home Economics program was created and a dedicated female dormitory was established.

Rather than the gender neutral or inclusive living atmosphere fostered on the modern campus, the historic college was clearly marked by gendered restriction in both academic pursuits (“women’s course”) and physical space (women’s dorms). Through access to CAP artifacts and the University Archives, I am in the unique position of being able to create a predictive model about gendered space that can inform future archaeological excavations and problem-oriented research questions. This blended research focus integrates well with the themes of the Broad Writing Residency by examining differential student use of landscape over time and by describing the intersection between public and private spaces in the female experience.

Throughout MSU’s history, gendered space on the campus has been built, maintained, and fissioned. I hope to identify archaeological correlates and material culture that can be linked to changing gender roles and expectations. Predictive modeling may help to identify landscapes worth investigating to explore such questions as: Who gets access to “premier” space at the heart of campus? How much space was dedicated to female pursuits (e.g. dorms, classes, social clubs)? How did female students work to define exclusive space to live, study, and socialize? When out-of-doors, was there space that women tended to use more than other spaces? What happens when these female spaces overlap or intrude into traditionally male space? Were female students playing by the rules and populating only the locales designated for them? How does this space shrink or grow through time? Can artifacts recovered by CAP be considered “gendered”? If so, how can these items place women on the campus? Can these artifacts add to the historical narrative regarding women’s experience in the early years of the university? Can we visualize a women’s landscape at MSU over time?