Building a Predictive Model to Investigate Gendered Space

Michigan State University began admitting women in 1870, just 15 years after the inception of the college. For some twenty-odd years, female students participated in the same courses as men with few exceptions. However, because there was no womens’ dormitory on campus, students were tasked with finding accommodations with permanent campus faculty or making the arduous trip from Lansing in stagecoaches. Following the systematic admission of women and implementation of a Womens’ Course near the turn of the century, as well as a dedicated space for female residents at Abbott Hall, enrollment of students increased. Before these changes, women were essentially an appendage on the college campus, making their archaeological presence somewhat ephemeral.

Historical records and photographs demonstrate that women were indeed present and accounted for on campus in those early years, but little archaeological evidence has been discovered that can be specifically linked to gendered space. Certainly social codes of the time, residential divisions between the sexes, and specialized curriculum resulted in areas on campus that could be wholly female domains. Why can we not find these gendered spaces in the archaeological record?

There are likely several answers to that question. First, many CAP excavations are guided not by a research question (e.g. “How did female students utilize the campus landscape?”) but more by necessity (i.e. ground is being disturbed by construction projects, so CAP is on hand to monitor for archaeologically sensitive materials being exposed or disturbed). Secondly, and more to the point, we are not sure where to dig to answer questions about women’s space on the historic campus. Enter: The University Archives!

As often discussed in CAP blog posts, the University Archives are a fantastic resource. We believe that memoirs composed by female alumni may offer some insight into how women used the landscape. Prior to 1900, women’s voices at Michigan Agricultural College were largely not present. Women’s memoirs and recollections of experiences on campus can help us to identify spaces that were uniquely female in addition to overlapping gendered space shared with males. A number of memoirs from the late 1800s illustrate that women often felt like (and were treated as) intruders or interlopers at their own college. We can reasonably assume that if female students were constrained socially on campus, their archaeological signature may be difficult to locate.

To address these questions, a predictive model may aid in determining where to dig to identify the material correlates of women’s space/experience/work. Predictive models rely on covariates to predict the probability of a particular outcome. The historic memoirs and scrapbooks compiled by women can be used to generate a list of locations on campus that were used exclusively by women, cooperatively by men and women, and exclusively by men. Narrowing down the locations on campus that were likely used by female students in the past will greatly improve future excavations driven by problem-oriented research questions.


Author: Amy Michael

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