Tag: research

The Sweet Side of History: Investigating an Old MSU Sugar House

The Sweet Side of History: Investigating an Old MSU Sugar House

Speaking as a person with a serious sweet tooth, maple syrup may be one of the greatest products of nature. It is tasty, versatile, and can be made by anyone with enough maple trees and a hot flame. It also has been a part of 

Big Changes Coming in MSU Campus Archaeology’s Future

Big Changes Coming in MSU Campus Archaeology’s Future

The 2017-18 academic year will be a momentous one for MSU Campus Archaeology. We are now an established entity in the University with our own budget and clear goals, but as of May 2018, I (Lynne Goldstein) will be retiring from MSU, and the MSU 

Four Pickles for Dinner? Trials and Tribulations of Archival Research and Tips for Success

Four Pickles for Dinner? Trials and Tribulations of Archival Research and Tips for Success

History is fleeting yet enduring. We hardly ever realize that we are making it, but the remnants of our historic actions can sometimes remain long after they are done. Things casually jotted down, random papers and notes tucked away—these are items we don’t realize that someone may use for information in the future. Fortunately for Campus Archaeology, the Michigan State University Archives serves as a repository for these bits of history, housing both official records and other written information collected from MSU alum and faculty emerita.

As lovely as such resources are, the often pose a problem for researchers. Diaries and notebooks, etc. were not written for the public and may only make sense the author. More official records, such as account books, weren’t necessarily private, but still bear the marks of individuals living in certain times and places, which doesn’t always translate for later generations.

In my efforts to recreate diet and foodways on the early MSU campus (1855-1870), I have been begun recording the food purchases in account books for the boarding houses. Boarding houses and clubs were the original cafeterias, so they are key to understanding early MSU food culture. However, the documents I have surveyed thus far, dating to between 1866 and 1871, have given me as much trouble as information.

Here are some of the issues facing researchers using historic archives:

  1. Illegibility:  Most handwriting prior to the last couple decades was in cursive, particularly in official records. Some record-keepers’ handwriting is clear and perfectly legible, but most of the time, this is not the case. As we move further away from using and reading cursive in the modern era, our untrained eyes find further difficulty with deciphering it. This problem will only continue to worsen, as many elementary schools have ceased teaching cursive writing.
Exprep
Exprep on extracts from Saints Rest account books. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

2. Outdated Terms:  Some of our problems with reading past documents can be attributed to the use of terms that are no longer commonplace. Early on I ran into a word I could not read (see photo), but upon a text conversation with Lisa, we decided the word may be “exprep”. Googling this phrase didn’t turn up anything useful, and we concluded that it may have stood for external preparation (hiring an outsider to prepare something). Later I ran into the phrase “express in tea”, referring to postage for a tea delivery. I thought perhaps I had misread it the first time around, but the last letter of the previous entry simply does not look like two esses. I remain confused! (And please help if you can!)

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

3. Incomplete information: One issue I have been running into with the receipt books is the lack of itemization of food purchases. Sometimes entries are very specific (e.g., “4 3/12 dozen eggs”), while others simply say “Pd Bill to Hentch for meat” without specifying the amount or type of meat that was purchased. Often the bookkeeper would simply reference the person paid without indicating the goods for which they were paid. This means that we are only able to get information about some food goods being purchased and not others.

So, how can you deal with the issues we face when researching in the archives? Here are some tips:

  1. Talk to an archivist:  This is the most obvious and probably most useful tip of them all. If you are having problems reading something, then it’s likely that the archivist has encountered the same problem and is much more experienced at reading and interpreting old records. This is a resource I have yet to tap—I’m  saving up all of my problems so I only have to bug them once!
  2. Discuss with friends:  Visiting the archives with friends can make the tedium a little less painful, plus you can ask them if they can decipher a word that has you flummoxed. If you go alone, you can take a picture (with permission of the archives) and send it to a friend for help.
  3. Revisit:  Take note of words you can’t read and revisit them later. Sometimes looking at them again or after you’ve seen a certain word or term written more clearly can help you read it the second time. I kept thinking I was seeing the word “sand” but later realized that it actually said “lard,” which makes more sense for a boarding house…
  4. Utilize alternate resources: Since certain documents often include only one type of information, you must draw on other resource types for context and other types of data. The account books list only foods purchased, so how foods were prepared, the recipes used, and students’ perception of the food are still unknown. I will be drawing on a variety of other sources for this information, so stay tuned…

These methods, however, cannot solve everything. One entry in the boarding house account book said “four pickles for dinner.” Did they really just buy four pickles? Or did they forget a word? Pounds? Jars? Barrels? And why were these pickles specified to be used for dinner? Was it a special dinner?! Or were pickles banned during lunch?!? Oh 1870 account book keeper, why do you vex me so?!?

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Some remnants of history may always remain a mystery.

Author: Susan Kooiman

Resources:

Kuhn Collection Vol. 108, Boarding Hall Account Book 1866-1871

CAP- Year in Review

CAP- Year in Review

As the final week of the semester winds down, CAP wanted to look back at all we’ve accomplished this year. In addition to our public outreach projects, which included Michigan Archaeology Day, Science Fair at Bennett Woods Elementary, Science Fest at East Olive, and the 

Anthropology Students Present at UURAF 2015

Anthropology Students Present at UURAF 2015

Friday I had the privilege of evaluating the Anthropology section of the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) in the MSU Union. I was very impressed with the quality of research and the ability of each presenter to discuss their project goals and outcomes. 

Meet CAP’s Fall Fellows

Meet CAP’s Fall Fellows

Kate Frederick– Kate is a fourth year PhD student, and is beginning her second year as Campus Archaeologist. Though her dissertation research revolves around hunter-gatherer food storage practices in northern lower Michigan, she has found a true passion in the history of MSU. For her final year as Campus Archaeologist, Kate’s goals are to continue to make CAP a sustainable program by organizing, analyzing, accessioning CAP’s collections and disseminating CAP’s research.

 

Katy Meyers– Katy is a fifth year PhD candidate studying mortuary archaeology. Her research specifically focuses on examining the spatial relationship between cremation and inhumation burials in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. She enjoys working both in the field and on various projects on the digital side of archaeology. She has been an active member of the Campus Archaeology Program since her first year at MSU and is a proud Spartan. Over the next year, she will be helping CAP to accession their sites, working on a cultural heritage plan for MSU and developing a more enhanced GIS system. You can learn more about her personal research and interests at www.bonesdontlie.com, and follow her on Twitter @bonesdontlie

 

Lisa Bright– Lisa is a first year PhD student in the Anthropology Department, here at MSU. Her specific research interests include mortuary archaeology, bioarchaeology and paleopathology. Her current research focuses on paleopathology in a late 19th/early 20th century paupers cemetery in Northern California. Although Lisa is new to CAP, she participated in the first Saint’s Rest field school during her undergrad years here, back in 2005. Lisa is very excited to be reconnecting with the program and assisting with the history of MSU exhibit that will be in the newly renovated Chittenden Hall.

 

Amy Michael– This will be Amy’s fourth year as a CAP Fellow. She primarily studies bioarchaeology of the ancient Maya and her dissertation research focuses on the skeletal remains of individuals buried in peripheral caves and rockshelters. Beyond that work, she enjoys the historical archaeology projects she’s able to work on through CAP, especially those that involve archival research. Amy will be continuing her project this semester using archival documents (memoirs, scrapbooks, diaries, etc…) written by female students to generate a predictive model for women’s space on the historic campus. We know when women were admitted and what they likely studied, but these documents provide clues to where female students would have gathered and experienced college life. Perhaps if we can isolate these spaces, we may be able to piece together a narrative (and a research excavation plan) focusing on gendered use of campus space.

Josh Burbank– Josh is a second year graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and a first year CAP fellow. His interests include the bioarchaeology of violence and warfare. He conducted fieldwork for several years in Belize and most recently in northern Albania. His recent work in Albania will be the focus of his dissertation research. In his first year working with CAP, Josh will assess various areas across campus to determine a suitable location for the upcoming 2015 Campus Archaeology Field school.

Blair Rose Zaid– Blair is a doctoral student in both African American and African Studies and Anthropology here at MSU. Her research focuses on the African Diaspora expansion of the Kongo Kingdom of 15th century west central Africa. Her interests include historic archaeology, community engagement, increasing diversity in archaeology, and raising a toddler. This will be Blair’s third year as a CAP fellow and like her previous project of creating a type collection for CAP, her research this year will continue to revolve around the CAP artifact collections.

 

Fresh Semester with Fresh Faces: Welcome this Year’s CAP Grad Students

Fresh Semester with Fresh Faces: Welcome this Year’s CAP Grad Students

In order to achieve the goals of Campus Archaeology (and to lessen the burden of the campus archaeologist), every year CAP works with several graduate students on a handful of intriguing projects. These projects use the artifacts, excavation reports and historic documents to conduct research 

Changing Heart of MSU’s Campus: End of the Year Update

Changing Heart of MSU’s Campus: End of the Year Update

This academic year has been enlightening and challenging for me. I dove into continuing a specific project that explores the heart of campus at MSU. I used archival evidence to glean the social, structural and spacial landscape of campus throughout the four time periods of 

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.

Author: Amy Michael

Historic Sustainability and Food Practices at MSU

Historic Sustainability and Food Practices at MSU

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