The Ritual Landscape of Michigan State University

Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, held this year in Washington D.C. This was a particularly pertinent meeting for Campus Archaeology because a symposium was held in honor of Dr. Lynne Goldstein. As she nears retirement and the end of her tenure as professor and CAP Director, it was evident from the symposium that her influence on the field of archaeology is far from over. The impact of her mentorship to students and the collaboration with colleagues was felt throughout every paper.

One theme that prevailed throughout the symposium was landscape and the ritual use of space. Dr. Goldstein has written extensively about mortuary patterns (how, where, and why people bury their dead) and regional analysis to evaluate patterns of settlement and ritual land use. Papers from MSU’s own Dr. William Lovis and Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, in addition to former Campus Archaeology fellow Dr. Amy Michael, all paid tribute to Dr. Goldstein’s legacy by considering their own research from this spatial perspective.

This got me thinking: what is the ritual landscape of Michigan State University, both past and present? And how might we see this archaeologically?

Dr. O’Gorman discussed how migrating populations may maintain certain rituals from their place of origin, while also engaging in new rituals in order to integrate both into the social and natural environment of their new homes. This is reflected in the environment of a college campus. Students come to MSU from across Michigan, the US, and abroad bringing their own rituals and personal items with them. However, once students arrive on campus, they form and engage in a united identity: that of an MSU student. This identity can then be enacted through rituals that are often closely tied to specific locations across the campus landscape.

Football Revelry ca. 1910

Football Revelry ca. 1910. Image Source

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

MSU tail gaiting today. Image source.

Sports comprise an important part aspect of MSU identity. Football games and tailgating are important rituals at MSU. While football itself might not leave behind the much in the way of archaeological remains (besides a giant stadium), tailgating certainly might. Archaeologists often find refuse pits with large amounts of food refuse and broken pottery, the remnants of ancient feasting events, or large meals accompanying special occasions or ceremonies. Many ancient societies held community-wide events that left significant archaeological signatures, such a large amounts of broken pottery and food refuse. Today, the area around the tennis courts on the MSU campus are the hub of student tailgating, a form of feasting, and will likely someday be a treasure trove of interesting finds (at least those items missed by MSU’s otherwise stellar clean-up crews). If tailgating or other sport-related revelries were historically held elsewhere on campus, we may find evidences of these activities during our campus surveys.

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus

Sacred Space during the early days of the campus. Image source

Sacred Space today

Sacred Space today. Image source

The “Sacred Space” is the large open area north of Beaumont Tower, which is the unofficial “center” of campus.  New construction has been banned in this area since the 1870s. Although students certainly use this space, and in the future we may find refuse of their presence there, we would not expect to find much in the way of trash pits or construction refuse dating to after fits establishment (although the pre-1870s archaeology of this area is quite rich). This is common of many ancient city center plazas, where city-wide ceremonies were held. Sometimes the absence of structures or other archaeological evidence is the strongest indicator of ceremonial space as they are kept clean and clear of structures to allow room for ceremonies and their participants.

Sparty Statue - Image Source

Sparty Statue – Image Source

Graduation is arguably the most significant ritual enacted on a college campus. Graduates routinely get their pictures taken next to the Sparty statue on north campus, and may even hold more significance in this milestone than the location of the actual graduation ceremony. Sparty is what archaeologists call a “monument,” or large, immovable objects that visually mark space with significance and meaning. Monuments are common in the ancient world, from the burial mounds of the Midwest, to the obelisks and temples of ancient Egypt and Greece.

The Rock.

The Rock. Image Source

The Rock, a more informal monument on campus, is a large boulder which various student groups take turns painting, either promoting their student group or serving as a way to express solidarity, protest, and/or discontent with current events. It is so much a symbol an important symbol of MSU heritatage that someone wrote a whole book on it! Students sometimes camp out to ensure their chance for painting the rock, so we may one day be able to see this refuse archaeologically. A few years ago, a chunk of the hundreds of layers of paint fell off, revealing an enthralling stratigraphy representing decades of student voices and creativity. One artist made “Spartan Agate” jewelry from it, allowing alum to wear a piece of MSU archaeological history around their necks.

 Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted

Mary Mayo Hall, a stop on the Apparitions and Archaeology Tour, is said to be haunted. Image source

CAP’s yearly Apparitions and Archaeology Tour is inspired by ghost stories associated with various buildings and features across the campus. These spectral legends are closely tied to landmarks on the landscape but leave no archaeological trace. These represent aspects of the past that archaeologists want to know but struggle to uncover: myths and legends. Reflective of a culture’s ideology, oral histories and myths often prove elusive to archaeologists unless recorded in the written records. Even in the age of print and social media, these ghost stories might have simply been passed down from generation to generation of students without official recordation, eventually forgotten, had they not been recorded by CAP for our famous tour.

One way oral history and archaeology can converge is through public outreach. So, I turn the rest of this blog over to you, dear readers! If you are a current or former student, faculty, or staff member, what are the places on campus that are most special to you? Are there areas of ritual or ceremonial significance that you know of (used by a specific student group, etc) from the past or present that Campus Archaeology should know about or document? Share your stories in the comments!

Rethinking the ‘Sacred Space’

1880's Map of MSU, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

1880’s Map of MSU, via MSU Archives and Historical Records

Michigan State University’s campus began as a small grouping of buildings in an oak opening, and since the 1870s, when the College President decreed that no further construction was allowed within this central wooded area, it has been known as the “sacred space”. The Campus Archaeology Program has worked diligently since 2005 to investigate and protect the archaeological integrity of this historic portion of campus, and much of our work has been located within this ‘sacred space’. It is perceived as one of the last historic and authentic feature of MSU’s campus, which has led to the it being discussed as a static, preserved landscape- a perception that we too as the archaeologists on campus have perpetuated to some extent. However, despite being ‘sacred’, construction, destruction and reconstruction of the space has continued at a steady pace throughout the over 150 years of campus life.

For the “Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values” conference held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I’m going to be discussing this paradox: why do we talk about this central area of campus like it is a preserved and protected landscape, when construction crews, landscaping and even ourselves have altered it and actively dig it up?

Our excavations have revealed a number of interesting facts about the ‘sacred space’ and its preservation.

  1. Sacredness has protected some archaeological features from destruction, and prevented major building work: Not only is this the historic area of campus (so we find the majority of historic artifacts here), the concept of the space as an area with protection from construction is highly beneficial for the protection of artifacts and features. We have been able to recover large amounts of artifacts that could have been otherwise destroyed by construction. Further, the preservation of the historic landscape allows us to better interpret artifacts in situ and understand their relationship to the historic context.
  1. Utilities run throughout the space and even through archaeological features: Despite the theoretical restriction on construction and ‘sacredness’ of the space, there has been destructive alterations to the landscape throughout the years to deal with campus development and changes in technology. Steam tunnels, utility lines to supply water, gas and electric throughout the campus, and the replacement of the lampposts with electric versions has all led to changes underground. Sadly, some of these efforts have highly disturbed archaeological features. College Hall’s foundation walls were damaged by utility lines, and had they not gone through this area, we may have found more evidence from this building.
  1. Discover of original roads and sidewalks shows that the pathways we take have changed dramatically with shifts in transportation: The roads and sidewalks of campus have shifted in location, type and size over the years, especially since the invention and popularization of cars. The major campus road used to circle on the interior of the sacred space, and was expanded and moved to the outside during the late 19th century. The sidewalks were originally dirt or cinder, and were constructed in informal patterns to simulate a park. Today’s sidewalks are concrete or a glass-concrete hybrid, and while they are still more informal, they are not as winding as they once were. Sidewalks are consistently altered within this space to try to fit student walking patterns to promote walking and biking on sidewalks, rather than creating more informal pathways of dirt between the walks- a losing battle.
  1. Brick, building material and new soil are scattered across the sacred space, suggesting they were used to raise up sections of land across campus, changing the rolling hills and the overall grading of the sacred space: In various spaces across North campus, we’ve found evidence of clean soil, piles of bricks and building material, and sand deposits that suggest that the actual grading of the landscape has been altered. The slopes of the sacred space today are nowhere near those of the earliest stage of campus occupation, where hills were undulating. It is now a small rolling of a single hill. The landscape has been altered dramatically over time.
  1. We disturb the ‘sacred space’: It isn’t just landscaping, facilities and planning or the administration that has changed this sacred space. In the act of learning more about the space to better interpret and protect it, we actively are disturbing this landscape and altering it. As always, we try to stick to areas that are already going to be disturbed for one reason or another, but our work is destructive- in learning more about the past, we disturb the context.

1945 Photo of Sparty, via MSU Archives

Even though the landscape isn’t sacred in the sense that it is static, it is sacred in the fact that the vital characteristics and identity of the space remains coherent and supportive of our university and community identity. But it isn’t just that- the space is a reminder of a lost landscape. We don’t have the first campus buildings, we don’t have the small college in the oak opening. What we have is a space that harkens back to those early designs and hopes of the people who wanted to create a university dedicated to agricultural research. We have natural space in the middle of a thriving, busy and massive campus. The sacred space is a refuge for students, faculty and community members- it is a space of tranquility, a space to restore one’s emotional and physical health by taking a break from the pace of life. It has always been a part of our Spartan identity, and it always will be. Yes, the space has changed- but so have we, so has our university, so has the community.

For us, the space is hallowed ground, a cemetery for the buildings of the original agricultural college of the state of Michigan, and the natural landscape is the piece that remains. As archaeologists, it is our duty to continue to promote this sacredness, not as a static piece of history, but as sacred because it is a vital piece of our Spartan identity, sacred as the site of the original campus, sacred as a shelter from the modern world.

CAP at the Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values Conference

This May, the Campus Archaeology fellows will be presenting our research projects at the interdisciplinary Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values conference held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The goal of this conference is to bring together scholars from multiple fields in order to discuss a variety of relating themes regarding issues of social justice and power, authenticity and integrity, tangible and intangible heritage, and sustainability in cultural landscape management.

Our symposium focuses mostly on the latter themes and is titled “Universities as Examples of Cultural Heritage Planning, Understanding Landscapes, and Being Sustainable.” The papers given will discuss the major research projects that CAP has recently worked on. Much of this research has been featured in various blog posts, but these papers will offer a much more broader view on each topic. This first paper describes how Michigan State has integrated sustainable food practices throughout its history through the examination of food production and choices over the course of MSU’s history. Women on campus are also related to changing landscapes through the creation of gendered spaces and the creation of a predictive model. Concepts of authenticity are employed in regards to the “sacred space” on campus and the perceived views of the undisturbed space. And finally, the prehistoric past on campus is explored and how this has shaped further historical developments on campus. All of these presentations will demonstrate how archaeology can benefit and enhance archival materials to help understand our historic past. They also demonstrate the impact and importance of Campus Archaeology to Michigan State University.

As this is not a typical archaeological conference, this will give us an opportunity to interact with scholars from other fields. It will allow us to demonstrate our broad impact on cultural heritage to a wide audience and gain insights on how it is approached and managed in other disciplines. We are also proud to announce that the Heritage Values Interest Group of the Society of American Archaeology has sponsored our session, which is a great honor.

Listed below are the titles of our papers and our abstracts, starting with our symposium abstract:

Universities as Examples of Cultural Heritage Planning, Understanding Landscapes, and Being Sustainable

Organizer: Lynne Goldstein

Land Grant institutions in the U.S. represent places that were originally oriented to educating and training farmers, but even in their growth and expansion, have always been places of reform and experimentation. In that context, this symposium looks at landscape, cultural heritage, planning, and sustainability of one of the pioneer land grant colleges: Michigan State University (MSU). In particular, we use the lens of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) to demonstrate how archaeology can contribute to current conversations on major issues of today. CAP uses the past to make the University better stewards, but also to experiment with new approaches, integrate archaeology into planning and training, and bring students and the broader public into discussion of larger issues of heritage and sustainability. Each paper in this session represents one of Campus Archaeology’s major projects.

Created Landscapes, Managing Heritage, Being Sustainable, and Learning from the Past: A Land Grant University and Its Campus Archaeology Program

Lynne Goldstein

The Michigan State University (MSU) Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) has existed for fewer than 10 years, and although we conduct archaeological work prior to University construction, we do much more. We have convinced MSU that it needs to be better stewards of its past, and the University has agreed. We do archaeology prior to ANY campus construction, whether it is a new building or planting a new bush. In addition to acting as stewards of the campus’ past, we focus on training students, engaging the broader community in the importance of the past to the present, and conducting independent research on the past. In 2014, we realized that although we had been well integrated into the university infrastructure system, we were not being included in the planning process. I offered an intensive class on Cultural Heritage Planning, and as a group we drafted a cultural heritage plan for the campus. The possibility of our success was realized when the Planning Office agreed to consider integration of our plan into the new University Master Plan. This paper outlines the process of this planning and some possible broader implications.

How the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program Has Examined Sustainability Through Time.

Nicole Geske, Lisa Bright, and Amy Michael

The role of universities in sustainability and cultural landscape management has largely been ignored. However, sustainability can often be studied more effectively at the university level, where there is a microcosm of greater society and its issues. To examine these questions, archival records and archaeology can be used to identify sustainable practices throughout the past using accepted benchmarks of energy, food, and transportation. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, we focus on sustainability of food systems at MSU through time.

As a land grant institution with a focus on agriculture, MSU incorporated food systems into the physical and cultural landscape since its inception. Sustainability in food practices was a large part of this effort, as it was required in order to maintain the campus. This self-reliance on food continued until the student population and surrounding community expanded to the point where it was no longer practical to be the sole producer of food. This change also mirrored larger societal trends where artificial and canned foods became preferred to those grown on campus. The University’s long tradition of food system sustainability allows the connection of historic data to modern trends creating holistic views of changing landscapes.

Understanding and Predicting Gendered Space on the Historic Campus at Michigan State University

Amy Michael and Josh Burbank

Although women were present on the historic campus, they were essentially an appendage to a male-dominated landscape focused on agricultural education. Females were officially admitted by 1870, though geographic isolation and lack of dormitory space ensured that enrollment was low until 1896 when the Home Economics course was created. Historical records demonstrate that during 1900-1925 there was a rapid rise in visibility of female students. Cultural norms of the time were at odds with these “co-eds,” as women were absent from home and pursuing education independently. Writings from memoirs and literary clubs illustrate tensions between the university and females as the administration enacted rules to maintain order on the increasingly integrated campus. Student council records reflect the desires of women to govern themselves, while journals detailed the gendered constraint felt academically and spatially.

We explore questions related to the building, maintaining, and fissioning of gendered space on the historic campus during 1900-1925. Further, archaeological correlates and material culture linked to changing gender roles and expectations will be explored. The combined archival/archaeological approach will allow for the creation of a predictive model of a historic gendered landscape that can inform future excavations by the Campus Archaeology Program.

What Does it Mean to be Sacred? Campus Archaeology, Authenticity and the Sacred Space of MSU

Katy Meyers Emery

Michigan State University’s campus began as a small grouping of buildings within an oak opening, and since the 1870s, when the College President decreed that no further construction was allowed within this central wooded area, it has been known as the “sacred space”. The Campus Archaeology Program has worked diligently since 2005 to investigate and protect the archaeological integrity of this historic portion of campus, and much of our work has been located within this ‘sacred space’. The ‘sacred space’ is perceived as the last historic and authentic feature of MSU’s campus, which has led to the it being discussed as a static preserved landscape- a perception that we too as the archaeologists on campus have perpetuated to some extent. However, despite being ‘sacred’, construction and reconstruction of the space has continued at a steady pace throughout the over 150 years of campus life. This paper investigates the manner in which the ‘sacred space’ has been treated and perceived in the past and today, the authenticity of its modern description and perception, and how we as archaeologists promote the protection and integrity of the space, while also addressing the changes of this living landscape, both the tangible and intangible.

Reading between the Lines: How MSU Campus Archaeology Evaluates the Past

Blair Zaid and Kate Frederick

This paper investigates both the tangible and intangible heritage of Michigan State University’s campus. The priority of historical heritage at MSU creates a silence of the multiple influences of the development of the campus, specifically the ‘Sacred Space.’ The ‘Sacred Space’ a designated area in the oldest part of campus now set aside for its aesthetic charms, has evidence for a prehistoric site dating to 3000 B.P. This paper posits that prehistoric and early historic land use by Native American populations over time influenced how the ‘Sacred Space’ was formed during the construction and protection of the space.  Using archaeological, geological, historical, and ethnohistorical information, this paper aims to interpret elements of the prehistoric landscape to better understand the multiple influences that helped shape the ‘Sacred Space.’ This project will ultimately help the MSU Campus Archaeology Program construct a Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the University and ‘unsilence’ the overlooked contributions of prehistoric Native American populations to the changing landscape of MSU.

Gunson House / Bayha Home Management House

One of the bigger question surrounding the Hannah Admin building assemblage is, “Where in this area could these high quality ceramics have come from?”. They’re nicer than what would have been found in typical student areas, the site is south of faculty row, and they date to a wide time span.

As Kate mentioned in her last blog, during our research we noticed a building in the general area of the current Hannah Admin building that had potential as the ceramics contributor. On maps prior to 1941, campus building no. 63 is labeled as Greenhouse/ Gunson Residence.

1924 Campus Map Greenhouse

Map of Campus by T. Glenn Phillips March 1924 – Courtesy of MSU Archives

However, following Dr. Gunson’s death in 1940, the building changes names to the Anna E. Bayha Home Management House (sometimes also being labeled just Bayha house, or home economics house). According to the August 28, 1941 Board of Trustees Notes it was Dean Dye, of the College of Human Ecology, that proposed to convert the Gunson residence into another home management practice house.

The home management practice houses were designed to give women enrolled in home management courses practical experience with their new skills. The management house system was started in 1916, and as of 1943 there were four of these houses on campus. The original three were in faculty row (#6 Ellen Henrietta Richards home, #5 Maude Gilchrist home, #4 Ethel Gladys Webb home), and the Bayha house was the newest addition.

Bayha House photo

Scrapbook photo of the Bayha House – Courtesy of MSU Archives

Each home had an advisor, and seven to eight students who were responsible for taking care of the household. During their eight week stay in the house, the girls were tasked with living on three different levels of food costs; 30 cents per person per day, 50 cents, and lastly 75 cents. The program was designed to give students experience in nutrition, meal planning, cooking, and the daily maintenance of a house. (Source: News Paper Article “Here’s Food Budget of 30 Cents a Day” by Bernice Carlson, State Journal Women’s Writer” no date)

Although maps and financial statements provided important information, Kate and I set off to try to find images of the inside of the home, with the hope that perhaps there were some pictures of the ceramics/dishes used by the women.

Thankfully, we were in luck! The archives have a collection of Home Management House scrapbooks, ranging from 1928 to 1971.

Scrapbook Title Page

Bayha Scrapbook Title Page – Courtesy of MSU Archives

We were even further rewarded when we located the scrapbooks specifically associated with the Bayha Home. Although we have not been able to match specific pieces from the assemblage to the photos, they do show a wide variety of dish wear in use within the home.

Scrapbook photo

Scrapbook photo of dinner setting – Courtesy of MSU Archive

Bayha house having tea

Women having tea/coffee – Courtesy of MSU Archive

Corner cabinet china

Corner cabinet with China – Courtesy of MSU Archive

Bayha serving cake

Bayha women serving cake – Courtesy of MSU Archive

Later maps and a President’s report from August 7, 1947 mention that the Bayha house was modified to be used as a nursery school.   This change occurred because of the construction of Polacci Hall.  This building combined all four of the home management houses into units within a single building.  The house remained a nursery until it was razed in late 1953-early 1954 to make room for the new library.

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?

Breaking All (or some of!) the Rules: Finding Subversion in the Historical Record

As I’ve researched female students on the historical campus this past semester, I keep finding that humor and resiliency are recurring themes in their scrapbooks and journals. Interestingly, it seems that the mechanism of humor may have been used to deflect contentious attitudes about the female presence on a campus that had been historically male-oriented until the university began systematically admitting women in 1896 (female students were allowed on campus as early as 1870, but lack of academic programs and boarding quelled enrollment numbers).

Feronian Society. Courtesy MSU Archives

Feronian Society. Courtesy MSU Archives

Of course, it should come as no shock that female students have always been funny, creative, engaged, and productive in college life at MSU, but I think that sometimes we gloss over the past with a broad brush, believing that women only studied certain subjects, moved about in certain areas, and kept to certain codes. Not so!

The records kept by the Women’s Student Council from 1917-1934 show many infractions by women who must have been determined to buck some of the traditional standards that applied to them and not to male students. Interestingly, the first order of business called at the first Women’s Student Council meeting was a request by the female senior students to be afforded the same privileges as the male students on campus. It appears that these women understood the university process, and formed their council in response to growing enrollment numbers and desires to have more active voices on campus. Just one month after formation of the council, there is a record detailing a combined meeting of the women’s and men’s councils along with notes about the university president calling meetings to order.

Courtesy MSU Archives

Courtesy MSU Archives

Clearly the council was laying down roots and had the clout to be taken seriously on campus, approximately twenty years after women began enrolling en masse. Rules, proposed and accepted by the council in 1919 demonstrate that was a clear emphasis on honor, conduct, and morality that was directly tied to how women should behave around men; females were given rules regarding calling hours and were expressly not allowed to walk off campus with a male student.

Feronian Society Rules. Courtesy MSU Archives

Feronian Society Rules. Courtesy MSU Archives

It’s hard to conceptualize these rules today, but I believe that female students subverted some of this university and cultural authority by creating humorous takes on their situations. A females literary club, the Feronian Society, listed these tongue in cheek rules for women on campus in the 1905 Gluck Auf manuscript:






Pieces of the Past: Women’s Scrapbooks from the Turn of the Century

In my last blog, I shared a portion of the draft that I’m working on about gendered spaces on campus. The most challenging part of the project thus far has been isolating documents, folders, or ephemera in the University Archives that can inform the research goal. This is a truly piecemeal endeavor: a pamphlet outlining a women’s course filed away in a binder about an old building, a receipt detailing the funds raised for a women’s club, a stack of old photos documenting female students gathered for a social event, and so on.

This week, I decided to focus on the scrapbooks compiled by female students during and after their terms at Michigan Agricultural College. Scrapbooks are probably one of the most direct examples of how memories are constructed and reinforced in later years; that is, some scraps are worth saving while others go the way of the landfill. A number of the scrapbooks have similar themes – dance cards, tickets to fancy parties, letters from prominent persons, and photos of friends were obviously deemed worth saving, documenting, and revering for future descendants or university alumni (depending on the intended audience for the scrapbooks!). I was struck by some omissions that I thought would be quite common: grade reports, written assignments, awards. Perhaps these materials were saved separately and never made it to the University Archives. Or, maybe these items were considered simply part and parcel of the college experience and not thought special enough to enter into a scrapbook.

Of the scrapbooks I viewed this week, I noted that “literary clubs” were popular among female students at the turn of the century. There were many invitations and announcements for literary club events that led me to some obvious questions: How many literary clubs were there? Were any of the clubs co-ed? What benefit did the clubs have for participants?

I have a few answers, though I believe these clubs (and others that are restricted to females only) are worth pursuing in greater detail for my project. In the 1905 Gluck Auf, a compendium of class rosters, clubs, faculty sketches, poems, messages from alumni, etc., there are 11 literary societies listed with four of these being female societies (there were no co-ed literary societies). I found some of the missions of the societies quite interesting, so I will reproduce brief descriptions below:

Feronian Society – The first society to be organized by two female students in 1893. The “purpose in view was to advance the intellectual, social, and moral standing of its members, to train mind, heart, and soul.” In 1901, rooms in the Women’s Building were given to the society for club use.

Themian Society – The society was organized in 1898 by female students who saw the need for another club. Irma Thompson is credited as being the driving force behind the creation of the Themians (I’ve written about Ms. Thompson in a previous CAP blog post – she’s one of my personal heroines!). This club aligned itself with the Oratorical Association and took home first place in 1905. The “constitutional object of the society is to promote the literary and social culture of its members, but the world Themian stands for more than this. We, its members, interpret its meaning as true loyalty to each other, and justice and friendship to all.”

Sororian Society – This club was initiated in 1902 by women who noted that attendance in the Women’s Course had increased such that only a small percentage of students could enter existing societies. “The aim of the Sororian Society is to perfect the intellectual and social faculties and thus develop that well rounded character which is the best product of college life.”

Ero Alphian Society – Formed in 1904, this club name means “love of the first, the highest, the best. “So, through the course in our college, we meet and pass one another, scarcely realizing the depth of character of those about us, until closer ties of friendship bind one to another. Knowing the importance of this, and the need of another society to promoste the growth of friendship and the development of literary and social talents, the Ero Alphian Society was formed.”