Tag: sustainability

Getting to the Root of History: Reviving Past Crops with the Student Organic Farm

Getting to the Root of History: Reviving Past Crops with the Student Organic Farm

For the past several years, the Capturing Campus Cuisine project has resulted in some wonderful collaborations and outreach opportunities between CAP and other MSU programs. Our partnership with MSU Culinary Services has resulted in a successful historic luncheon reconstruction and “throwback” meals with the MSU ON-THE-GO […]

Talking Trash: Sustainability & Bottles from the Old East Lansing Landfill

Talking Trash: Sustainability & Bottles from the Old East Lansing Landfill

If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed the many interesting artifacts, mostly bottles, found during the Brody Hall and Emmons Amphitheater area excavations. Since the Brody complex is built above the old East Lansing Landfill, these excavations provided us with an array […]

Canning on Campus

Canning on Campus

Complete Mason Jar from Gunson Unit A
Complete Mason Jar from Gunson Unit A

To say that the Gunson assemblage has a lot of glass is an understatement. So far, having fully cataloged one unit and being close to half way through another we have been encountering condiment jars, drinking glasses, medicine bottles, window glass, lab glass, and many fragments of canning jars. We even have a whole Mason jar from the bottom of unit A.

Today, canning jars have become synonymous with Mason jars (similar to how we call all tissues Kleenex or all bandages Band-Aids). Although canning has enjoyed resurgence in popularity in recent years, the jars have also become in high demand as drink vessels (i.e. hipster cocktail glasses), and as decorative items. Today the jars are mostly made of clear glass, but Ball has begun to reproduce the jars in blue, purple, and even green as part of their vintage “Heritage Collection”.

Although there were hundreds of patents for fruit jars, the best known and enduring is the Mason jar. In 1858 John Mason developed and patented a shoulder-seal jar with a zinc screw cap. In 1869 a top seal above the threads and under a glass lid was introduced, creating an excellent seal. As the original patents for Mason fruit jars was set to expire in the early 1870s, Louis Boyd and John Mason along with two others formed the Consolidated Fruit Jar Co. to renew patents and retain control of the Mason fruit jars.

Ad for Boyd's Porcelain Lined Cap
Ad for Boyd’s Porcelain Lined Cap – source

Archaeologists tend to like finding canning jars because they are relatively easy to date. Just like most ceramics, canning jars have makers marks, specific years that each company transitioned from hand blowing the glass to machine automation, and the signatures on Ball brand jars changed frequently. The blue color of many of the early canning jars also helps set them apart from other glass jars and bottles. We also find the porcelain liner that sealed the jars, and these also contain datable trade marks.

So why might we be finding fragments of canning jars in almost every level of the Gunson assemblage?

Well, there are several possible explanations. Although their main purpose was to preserve fruits and vegetables, these jars were used for a variety of purposes (just like today!).  You can see in this image of students working in the chemistry lab in 1897, mason jars with their zinc screw caps can be seen in the right hand foreground.

Student working in Chemistry Lab 1897 - image courtesy of MSU Archives
Student working in Chemistry Lab 1897 – image courtesy of MSU Archives; source

However, the canning and preservation of food was an important focus for the college in the early days. In fact, one of the earliest female masters theses, 1898, focused on canning. Amy Vaughn graduated with her bachelor of science in 1897 (she is the only woman listed in that graduating class). Miss Vaughn spent the next year working in the bacteriological laboratory investigating the causes of change in canned fruit. Her master’s thesis, “Domestic Canning of Fruit”, can be seen in the MSU Library Special Collections.

Canning continued to be taught as an integral part of the curriculum, with a special focus on domestic canning in the women’s courses. Canning would have also taken place in the faculty houses. There is even a tragic, if not humorous, story in the September 1897 M.A.C. Record about a professor living on faculty row that drops his wives tray of freshly canned fruit down the basement stairs, much to her dismay. (full story)

Canning at the cannery during World War II.
Canning at the cannery during World War II. Image courtesy of MSU Archives: source

In the 1940s canning dramatically increased with the building of a campus-canning factory. In 1941 Henry Ford gifted canning factory equipment in order to build a wartime supply of canned foods for use in college dormitories. “From apples to spinach, products will be put into No. 10 size cans which hold nearly a gallon”. The project required the use of more than 240 acres of college land, where according to Professor R. E. Marshall none of the produce produced on campus will be sold. The canning equipment was installed in the short course barracks near the power plant, which can be seen labeled as the canning factory on maps from this time period (near the current Olds Hall).

MSU has a long history with canning and preserving. The abundance of canning jars we have found thus far in the Gunson assemblage is not surprising. Perhaps they were used by Mrs. Gunson to “put up” some of the ample fresh fruits and vegetables grown on campus; or perhaps Professor Gunson used them in his experimental greenhouse. Either way, canning jars go hand in hand with the agricultural history of MSU.

 

Sources:

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-226/meeting-minutes-1897/

http://www.canningpantry.com/mason-jar-history.html

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-F03/canning-at-the-cannery-during-world-war-ii/

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-12C3/the-mac-record-vol48-no03-may-1943/

http://www.freundcontainer.com/history-of-the-mason-jar.html

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-AC2/a-student-works-in-the-chemistry-lab-1897/

http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-832/canning-strawberries-ca-1940/

https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/ConsolidatedFruitJar.pdf

Investigating Sustainability through Archaeology: A Project Review

Investigating Sustainability through Archaeology: A Project Review

Over the past few years various CAP fellows, including myself, have examined sustainability at MSU. In contrast to modern sustainability research, which has focused exclusively on the present and future, CAP has examined how past practices functioned and how these have changed over time. Through […]

Agriculture in the Time of War: The Women’s Land Army at MSU

Agriculture in the Time of War: The Women’s Land Army at MSU

My goal for CAP for this semester is to continue to research sustainability in food practices at MSU. Previous blog posts have discussed some of these topics, including the role of women and the entire local community during World War II in programs such as […]

Building Construction and Use of Energy on the Historic Campus

Building Construction and Use of Energy on the Historic Campus

This week I have been working to pull together my notes from the University Archives building construction and use of space on campus. Though this is not the focus of my project this year (this topic has been addressed by previous CAP researchers Eve Avdoulos and Sabrina Perlman), I believe there are some threads here that could be easily tied to my sustainability research. For example, in speaking with Archives researchers, I have heard that the earliest structures on campus were made of locally sourced bricks and stone. If Anyone has a reference for this or could point me in a direction where I could find more information, I would appreciate it! Since it is well-documented that the first cohorts of students were just as much laborers as scholars, it would be interesting to know what role students played in the construction of campus buildings.

An Aerial View of MAC ca. 1903
Notice how all the buildings are facing center, towards the Sacred Space.

In its present design, Michigan State University’s campus is impressively expansive. The campus began as a small cluster of buildings set in swampy wooded land which necessitated much clearing. The radiation of campus growth projected from this initial cluster, but not in an even concentric fashion from the center. Buildings in the center of campus (now only a “center” in metaphor alone) are now historical landmarks just as much as they are functioning university structures. Initially, college buildings all faced the center of campus; now, with growth of the institution, the buildings all face away from the center (even though the physical structure remains unchanged). Some shifts in building design reflect a temporary need for accommodation (e.g. facilities needed to teach in and house students after war).

Archaeological data illustrate the university response to growth in all arenas (e.g. need for increased food production/sourcing in response to greater enrollment, need for reevaluation of campus planning in response to changing transportation technology, and need for adoption of modern energy technologies in response to greater campus-wide usage). For example, during a 2012 CAP excavation, the remains of a boiler house were discovered in what is currently the middle of a road. Archival documents show that the university was under pressure to provide energy for the campus that was outgrowing the technology infrastructure. The boiler house, seen archaeologically as an abandoned technology, was the last effort prior to the adoption of an integrated system.

This semester I will continue to visit the Archives to fill in some gaps regarding food, energy, and transportation practices on the historic campus. While I think as this point I have exhausted the material from the President’s Papers and student diaries, I am going to investigate the Annual Reports to the Board of Agriculture next week.

Documenting our Spartan Past: Sustainability Through Time on MSU’s Campus

Documenting our Spartan Past: Sustainability Through Time on MSU’s Campus

A quick GoogleScholar search with the keyword “sustainability” will yield thousands of hits. Paring down the search by adding “university” will still result in a host of results. Sustainability practices at the university level have been en vogue in the United States in recent years, […]

Sustainability at MSU: End of Year Update

Sustainability at MSU: End of Year Update

I spent my year working on the sustainability project with a specific focus on using University Archives materials to understand food and transportation on the historic campus. Through pamphlets, diaries, newspaper clippings, photos, reports, and ledgers, I pieced together information about early student experience in […]

MSU Archival Tidbits: Labor, Fires, and Enrollment

MSU Archival Tidbits: Labor, Fires, and Enrollment

I am still working on the sustainability project which seems to have generated endless research questions. As I try to reign it all in, I have been writing about a category that I have blandly termed “Student Life” in my draft. This is the catch-all portion for the interesting factoids I come across in the University Archives. Somehow I will assimilate this information into a working draft, but for now I will share what I have learned below:

In the early days of the college, all students attending the college were required to split their days between labor and academics (T. Gunson, 1940). Through manual labor in the gardens and farms, as well as clearing land for buildings and roads, the student body effectively constructed the foundations of the institution while receiving their education.

In 1871, student Henry Haigh reported a fee of $29.95 for boarding at Saint’s Rest. Haigh journaled about the atmosphere in the dining halls which were structured by assigned seating. He mentioned the presence of women in the halls, though the ratio of men to women was still quite unequal at this time.

Engineering Lab on Fire in 1916, via MSU Archives

During October 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, there were numerous raging fires in the woods around the new campus and across Michigan. Students were dispatched to fight the blazes along with seminal faculty members, Dr. Miles and Dr. Kedzie. Many people lost their lives and homes, especially in the thumb region of the state, but the college was spared due to the management of the students and their vigilance against the fires. Drs. Miles and Kedzie would divide students into groups to battle the blazes through the night, a task compounded by the water shortage from an ongoing drought. Classes were largely cancelled for a week while students joined with neighboring farmers to keep watch over the advancement of the fires. Haigh noted that many students knew how to combat fires and dense smoke, having experience with managing agricultural lands on their family properties. (Sidenote: if anyone has any information about the fire outbreaks during this time period, please share! I am curious as to why there were so many fires in Michigan at this time, though I presume it is due to dry environment).

Faced with declining enrollment numbers, President Snyder (1896-1915) personally corresponded with potential students and advocated the incorporation of promotional literature and calendars into the college’s recruitment plans. As a result, student enrollment increased during his presidency (though the onset of World War I drew students to combat soon after he stepped down). President Snyder encouraged the training of women at the college through a series of short course programs. During his term, Snyder also helped initiate summer courses and railroad institutes. All of these programs lended the college credibility in the eyes of the state population, as MAC faculty members traveled to rural areas of Michigan to give lectures and perform demonstrations for farmers. In an effort to appear relevant and indispensible to the state, the college also enacted county extension programs.

Frank Kedzie, President of the college from 1916-1921 during the turbulent war years, resigned in the wake of weak post-war enrollment growth. A change in leadership was thought to be needed to reignite admissions, so leadership was passed to President Friday in 1921. Friday was an economist and agriculturalist hired to solve the issues stemming from the national war effort. State farmers were suffering during the post-WWI depression. During his administration, Friday endorsed more liberal education programs, allowing engineering students to pursue liberal arts courses in place of some more technical class requirements. President Friday spearheaded the effort to grant PhDs, with the first degree conferred in 1925.

Historical Impact of War on Campus

Historical Impact of War on Campus

As I continue to collect information from the University Archives about the early sustainability practices on campus, I keep uncovering little snippets of information in pamphlets or handwritten notes that send me on paper chase for more clues. I have been trying to be more […]