A Farewell to Trowels

Katie Scharra (right) and I working the CAP crew in 2013

I’ve been a member of Campus Archaeology Program since I started working on my Ph.D. in 2010. Next month, I graduate. The experience and knowledge I’ve gained as a member of CAP has been invaluable, and it has shaped my professional trajectory in many ways. In May, I will begin a full time position at the George Eastman Museum as the Manager of Online Engagement, and my experience blogging, tweeting and conducting outreach with CAP has prepared me well to do this job. So, as I ride off into a Spartan sunset, I decided it would be fitting, like Amy, to share the some of my favorite projects I’ve worked on. I’ve had an amazing career with CAP, first as a graduate fellow then as Campus Archaeologist, finally as Assistant Director of the field school.

Creating a Better GIS for CAP: One of the big projects I worked on throughout my time in CAP, has been helping to create the Geographic Information System (GIS) for our archaeological projects. GIS is a computer based system that allows us to keep track of spatial data, including the locations of current MSU buildings and features, historic buildings, and every single hole we’ve ever put into the ground for shovel testing and excavation. In fact, the first CAP project I was ever assigned was based around GIS. The goal of that project was to examine current research, and create a spatial model that would help us locate prehistoric sites on campus. As the Campus Archaeologist, I developed a GIS layer that could be used by the university’s Infrastructure, Facilities and Planning department to improve our workflow with them on construction projects. As a CAP fellow, I continued to aid in creating and maintaining different layers and files in the GIS, and taught others how to use this system. This last year, I standardized the system and wrote a best practices guide to ensure that the GIS continues to be an asset to the program, and will be maintained.

Excavating the Saints' Rest basement! That's me!
Excavating the Saints’ Rest basement! That’s me!

Campus Archaeologist: During my second and third years in the program, I was the Campus Archaeologist and led the day to day operations of the program. It was an exciting time to be leading the archaeology crew- the steam tunnels were being replaced across campus, allowing for major shovel testing and excavations in previously unexplored areas. I got to watch Morrill Hall be demolished, but also recover and document the boiler building that was used for the structure from 1902-1905. One of the most rewarding experience of my role as Campus Archaeologist was getting to work with a broad range of people from the university and in the community. I really enjoyed collaborating on construction projects with the various crews, teaching the public about the archaeological work we were doing, and training undergraduates in field and lab methods. Probably one of the coolest things I got to do, was excavate Saints’ Rest, the first dormitory. We were able to find the dividing wall between two parts of the basement, and the metal parts of the door that would have divided it. We also found the chimney to the building- it had simply fallen off the back and been buried. It was an incredible find!

2015 Field School: One of the most rewarding experiences I had during graduate school, was helping with CAP’s 2015 field school. This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be the assistant director for the CAP field school, which excavated an area behind the Admin building, just south of the river. I love teaching and field work, so this was an amazing chance to combine this love and learn more about MSU’s past. We found hundreds of artifacts, interesting features, and were able to connect the deposit back to the Gunson household. The excavation provided us with a fascinating look into an era of campus occupation that we hadn’t previously found much material for, and told an interesting narrative about the changing nature of a single household as well as the broader landscape.

This means no more photos of my hands!
This means no more photos of my hand with artifacts! Maybe that’s a good thing…

Working with Historic Artifacts: I love the challenge of working with historic artifacts, particularly trying to use them to better understand MSU’s history. Because we have text and photographs in these periods, we can learn a lot about the artifacts and connect them to broader interesting stories. It is a fascinating challenge to connect histories of objects to the specific history of MSU. I’ve had the chance to learn about listerine bottles, makeup containers, various ceramic patterns, Frozen Charlotte dolls, changes in bottle glass over time, souvenir glass (one of my favorites), and even the development of the paper clip. Learning the history of each object makes our understanding of the past so much richer, and gives us insight into the daily lives of historic students. I am truly going to miss getting handed an artifact and having to identify it on the spot (promise to send me photos!).

There are things I’m really going to miss about CAP- getting to work on a wide range of field projects and excavating a historic landscape, getting the opportunity to identify cool new historic artifacts, connecting archives to archaeological work, working with a diverse range of colleagues to solve problems, and getting the opportunity to actively change and add to the history of my university. Not only did a learn a lot about MSU’s history (I can do a pretty awesome historic tour of campus), but it solidified within me a Spartan identity and a pride for my university. As I move into the next chapter of my career, I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had, the colleagues I’ve gotten to work with, and the constant guidance and encouragement of Dr. Goldstein. Go Green!


Katy Meyers Emery

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