As I continue to work on the sustainability project, I will be sharing excerpts from the draft that I am writing. Last week I came across a very helpful bound volume detailing receipts for food services from 1864-1874. Dr. Manly Miles kept a ledger of …
Throughout the course of this semester, I will be writing up the results of my archival research as they pertain to the archaeological materials recovered by CAP. I expect to revisit the University Archives several more times to read through some older documents, but I …
Under the guidance of the very helpful staff at the MSU Archives, I have been compiling a list of sources that may be useful for the CAP sustainability project. These sources are varied and some, to me, are surprising. I never thought I would find any interest in perusing the documents from the waste control authority, but alas! Information relevant to the sustainability project comes in many forms, so I have been looking through a number of seemingly disjointed sources. However, information relevant to some CAP project (not always mine) is usually found and, as such, we have begun to enter these archives sources into Zotero.
My project has been a trial and error exercise since the beginning of the semester; I have dead-ended on multiple sources and uncovered some gems in others. I cast a wide net (e.g. alumni papers, scrapbooks, Campus Park and Planning Division, Annual Reports to the Board of Agriculture, etc.) hoping to get some returns that could further inform the archaeological materials in CAP’s possession. What I did not expect was the multitude of threads that I have followed leading to questions about the campus and its previous inhabitants. Straining my eyes to read a 100+ year old document has been worth it to find that little bit of information that leads to the next idea or pursuit, many of which are cultivated at weekly CAP meetings when I get to share and hear feedback about these new discoveries!
Some of the handwritten letters or accounts are particularly interesting as they beg further questions not just of the information contained within, but of the author, the intended audience, and the persons written about in the document. For instance, who were those workmen that built the first plank roads to the college? How did the university cope with expansion, both in terms of physical space and academic pursuit? What factors exacerbated or encouraged growth? Who were the first students and employees of the university that had so much faith in the institution in those beginning thin years? When disasters struck in the form of fires or illness or war, how did the college manage and resolve the problems? How did the campus community interact with local farmers, many of whom were suspicious of the motivations of the college? At what point did the tide change? We know from historical documents that the first decades of the college were met with much adversity, from a state that was not sold on the idea of university education to the drop out rate and failure of many crops on the campus.
I believe that a way to access the change in attitude toward and at the university is to look for documents that detail the successes of crop production and the sale of these crops outside the university. Archaeological materials can aid in the reconstruction of this change as well. In a report to the President of the college in 1872, Dr. Beal reported that while the vegetable crop provided good yields, no crops were raised with the intention of selling outside the campus. Beal also wrote of the “disgrace” of the orchards and fruit gardens, expressing concern that state farmers may point to this as a failure of the college education system. More money and labor was needed, in Beal’s opinion, to insure success of the orchards. In later documents after the turn of the century, there are references to the amount of money being put into dairy production and selling outside the university. With more searching, I hope to fill out this gray area of time when attitudes regarding the utility of the college changed and how this shift relates to the sustainability and expansion of the early campus.
Author: Amy Michael
After several months, I have finally worked my way through the materials cataloged by the last MSU Historian, Madison Kuhn. Archiving everything from handwritten accounts of clearing the forest for the first college buildings to pamphlets announcing carnivals and balls on campus, Kuhn amassed an …
Over the past few weeks, I have continued to read through the documents collected by former university historian Madison Kuhn. While my project focuses specifically on articulating historical documents detailing food and transportation with archaeological materials, I have found items in the Archives collection that …
This year I am continuing work on the sustainability project that former CAP graduate research fellow Jennifer Bengtson and I worked on for the past two semesters. Michigan State University has a long history of sustainable practices, especially with regard to food, transportation, and energy. Focusing specifically on food production/consumption and transportation, I will continue to articulate historical documents and photographs from the university archives with the materials collected by Campus Archaeology to demonstrate the sustainability of the historic campus. In the past several weeks of archival research, I have located a number of documents in the Madison Kuhn collection that are of interest to the Campus Archaeology program and serve to contextualize our finds. Kuhn, the last of the official university historians, archived a wide ranging selection of materials relating to campus happenings and national events affecting the university community.
For example, I read the story of the MAC (Michigan Agricultural College – the former name of the university) Women’s Club during World War I wherein fuel shortages and appropriate fuel-saving measures on campus were discussed. This document also outlined the ways in which the campus community produced and conserved foods supported by the national wartime goals set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture. I have asked the staff at the University Archives to help me find out if the food grown in the Home Economics classes was sold and/or consumed within or outside of the university. Dr. Goldstein, director of the Campus Archaeology Program, has also asked me to research whether there is any truth to the rumor that the university faculty and staff were paid in foodstuffs during the Great Depression. These historical examples illustrate how larger social processes and events were affecting the maintenance and workings of the campus. Archaeological materials excavated on campus can provide another layer of information not recorded in the archives.
While it is fairly easy to link sustainability on campus to events like wars and recessions, there are many details of this project that require some detective work. For instance, I read through the pamphlets for the annual Agricultural Expositions held on the campus in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These brochures reference the types of issues and problems important to farmers during these years, but that information is not directly applicable to campus life. However, because the university was hosting a growing number of farmers each year, there are many references to lodging, food, and transportation that could be acquired by each participant. As the years progress, there is mention of the electric streetcar service from Lansing to East Lansing, complete with directions and fare cost (which rises at one point). It is also interesting to note that eating on campus is encouraged, with multiple options becoming available into the early part of the 1910s. Clearly, the campus was expanding with the influx of students and could provide choices to visitors. By 1923, the annual pamphlet for a farmers’ convention notes that both Lansing and East Lansing are well supplied with restaurants. Conceivably, it should be possible to archaeologically document the increasing production and consumption of food on the historic campus.
During the next few weeks, I will be moving through the rest of the Madison Kuhn collection and beginning to look at documents from the campus parks and planning division, student scrapbooks, and food services. Fortunately, the staff at University Archives are very supportive of my CAP project and have been helpful in tracking down documents that, at first, may seem only tangentially related to archaeological questions. This research demonstrates that articulating archives and archaeology is a mutually useful endeavor that can benefit our understanding of the historic campus.
Author: Amy Michael
This Firday, March 30th, MSU’s Council of Graduate Students (COGS) is hosting the annual Graduate Academic Conference (GAC). The goal of the conference is to showcase current research that has been completed or is currently being done by graduate and professional students from MSU and …
Over the course of the semester, Jennifer Bengtson and I (Amy Michael) have been documenting sustainability practices on MSU’s historic campus. Initially, we started this project under the pretense of incorporating archaeological data from the Campus Archaeology Program with the historical documents available from the …
As part of an ongoing project on the history of sustainability practices at Michigan State University, Jennifer Bengtson and I are working a grant proposal aimed at understanding sustainability from the past to the present. MSU is offering grant money for proposals that use the campus itself to interpret and implement sustainability policies. Our proposal, titled “Sustainability as Campus Culture: An Anthropological Approach to Understanding Community Participation in MSU Sustainability Programs” will utilize a multi-tiered approach to understanding sustainability on campus. We suggest that, previously, sustainability studies have focused on a top down approach, without giving much weight to individual and campus-wide attitudes towards these policies. Our social science perspective can provide a unique and valuable component to understanding, evaluating, and implementing MSU sustainability goals. As such, we propose an anthropological investigation that frames sustainability within the purview of historical and contemporary campus culture.
Our approach will be holistically anthropological, with contributions from three sub disciplines in order to engage the campus as, “a living learning laboratory” per the directives of the grant.
Ethnohistorical documents will aid us in interpreting the evolution of official sustainability policy and the ways in which they were understood and experienced by the larger campus community throughout time. Documents include those from the MSU and State archives which discuss patterns of energy and food use. From archival data we can explore first hand accounts of what was occurring on campus from 1855 to the present, including student diaries and notes from the campus meetings.
Campus Archaeology data will allow us to access the material remains of past food, energy, and transportation related activities, while supplementing documentary analysis (corroboration or contradiction of historic record). One example of this is the work being done to analyze the faunal remains. By looking at the refuse of the historic campus, we can better understand how food was used.
Finally, sociocultural analysis will allow us to understand the ways that today’s official sustainability policies and goals are appreciated, received, and participated in by the broader campus community (students, faculty, staff). If we are able to secure this grant, we hope to have a sociocultural anthropologist design a study asking participants about opinions on sustainability practices and current MSU policies.
The unique contribution of this grant to the narrative of sustainability on campus is that we aim to determine the personal connections that individuals have in implementing sustainability practices, and how those motivations and opinions have changed over time due to external factors.
As of now, we are still in the literature review process. In the next few weeks, we will formulate more of the writing and discuss our proposal with Dr. Goldstein. We look forward to continuing work on this grant and will submit our final application in late November. We will keep CAP updated with any news about MSU’s longstanding traditions of sustainability.
Thinking about sustainability, particularly in a historical context, is a complicated task. I knew little about sustainability before starting this project, but the idea was nevertheless enticing, and I began researching the meaning of the term. Definitions are numerous and multifaceted and most are not …