Creating a Cultural Heritage Plan for MSU

During this past summer, Dr. Lynne Goldstein taught a course on Methods in Cultural Heritage to a group of senior undergraduate and graduate students. The goal of the course was to learn what a cultural heritage plan was, why it is important to have for heritage places, and how they are created. The major outcome of the class was a rough draft of a cultural heritage plan for Michigan State University. Over the next year, one of my primary projects in going to be working with Dr. Goldstein to further develop this cultural heritage plan for campus and put it into action. Before I discuss this project specifically, I will introduce what cultural heritage is and why it is important to have a strong plan to protect it.

Beaumont Tower
Beaumont Tower

Cultural heritage is the legacy of a group, community or society that is inherited from previous generations, maintained by the current generation, and is endowed to the future generations. It includes tangible, intangible and natural forms of culture. Tangible cultural heritage includes things such as monuments, buildings, art and artifacts, whereas intangible culture including folklore, songs, knowledge and traditions. Finally, natural heritage of the landscapes and biodiversity. It is difficult to fit cultural heritage into neat little categories, and sometimes it can fit into more than one type. For example, Beaumont Tower is important for its historical location on College Hall, for the alumni effort to erect it, the unique green space it is located within, and for the music it provides on campus. All these things, tangible, intangible and natural, add to the importance of Beaumont Tower and are all part of its cultural heritage.

At Michigan State University, we have a strong cultural and natural heritage that has changed and persisted over the past 160 years. Our tangible heritage includes historic buildings like Linton Hall and the Laboratory Row structures, as well as the archaeological remains of past buildings like Saints’ Rest or College Hall. Within tangible heritage we can also include the t-shirts, water bottles, and other swag that announces to the world that we bleed green and are part of the Spartan nation. Intangible heritage is a little more difficult to define, but can be found in the persistence of sayings like “Go Green, Go White” or the passing down of the campus fight song. It includes everything that shows our MSU pride and heritage that doesn’t have a real physical manifestation.  Our natural heritage is found all around us on campus in the Red Cedar River flowing through campus and the significant open spaces and oak opening in North campus. All of these things and more make up our cultural heritage, and it is important that we preserve and protect them for future Spartans.

MSU Marching Band spells out 'MSU', example of intangible heritage with the school song
MSU Marching Band spells out ‘MSU’, example of intangible heritage with the school song

The goal of a cultural heritage plan is to identify, protect and manage all types of tangible, intangible and natural heritage within a given group or community. For MSU, having this type of plan enables us to better recognize places, things and actions that are important to our shared identity . By having a clear understanding of what our heritage is, we can better share it and protect it. While there are a number of plans for university and campus development, none of them specifically speak to the importance of our heritage and how it will be protected. At Campus Archaeology, we have been actively protecting one specific part of our heritage- our buried archaeological past. While this is important, there is more we can do to actively promote the past and protect it for the future. A clear cultural heritage plan allows multiple groups on campus to work towards the same goal, rather than having independent ones.

Over the next year we will be developing a cultural heritage plan for MSU that will outline the opportunities and challenges we will have by doing this, as well as ways that we can assess our progress and ensure accountability. We are very proud to be part of MSU and we want to ensure that future generations are able to understand and promote our shared history of excellence. By identifying, protecting and managing our cultural heritage, we are ensuring that our legacy continues.

Stay tuned throughout the next year for more updates on the plan!


Author: Katy Meyers Emery

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