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Autumn Beyer

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November 2, 2016

Capturing Campus Cuisine: Early Foodways at Michigan State University

November 2, 2016 | By | No Comments

I love food, and this year I am combining this love with both of my fellowship, Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) and Campus Archaeology Program, into a focused research project on the Early Period of MSU’s campus (1855-1870). Within the Campus Archaeology fellowship I am working with fellow Susan Kooiman on a meal reconstruction project. This involves using archival research along with the identification of archaeological food remains, both plant and animal materials, from MSU’s campus excavations. My CHI project will be creating the website that publicizes the meal reconstruction event to be held in the spring, as well as include background information about the project focusing on our research methods and reconstruction areas.

Before I go into the specifics of the CHI project, I want to give you all a little background on MSU’s Early Period dating from the founding of the university in 1855 through 1870. During this time, all students lived on campus. Students were required to work several hours each day, clearing land, working in the farm fields, and building the original structures on campus in addition to their course work. Most of the food that was consumed on campus was sourced from the campus farms and local farms. Susan and myself have been working in the MSU Archives focusing on the Early Period Boarding Halls, where all students lived. Currently, we have been going through the purchasing records that detail not only the type of food (meat, vegetables, fruit, baking supplies, etc.), but also the quantity of the purchase. This information will be combined with the future analyses of the plant and animal materials that have been recovered through the Campus Archaeology Program excavations. The identification of the plant and animal remains from the privy (toilet!) from Saints Rest, the first dorm on campus, will give us additional insight in the species that were being eaten during this time.

Farmers inspecting chicken flock, date unknown

Farmers inspecting chicken flock, date unknown

For the CHI project, the website that I will be creating, as stated previously, will include information on our research methods and focused reconstruction areas in addition to providing information about the future meal reconstruction event! For the research methods section, I will include information about the archival research conducted and the identification process for both plant and animal remains. Included in the reconstruction area are sections on food production practices (farm, butchering, cooking), seasonality of food resources, and the overall meal reconstruction conclusions.

Within these sections, I hope to include some type of interactive feature for the website user. While we are still figuring out the details of this interactive element, I welcome any suggestions about what you would like to learn more about related to food in the Early Period of MSU and any type of interactive component! This is the first stepping-stone for Campus Archaeology, where we hope to research and create a meal reconstruction for each time period of MSU’s history.

Photo Source: On the Banks of the Red Cedar – http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-74B/farmers-inspecting-chicken-flock-date-unknown/

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