The MSU Archives is a rich resource of information about the history of Michigan State University. The Archives host official documents from throughout MSU’s illustrious past, but also serves as a repository other written information collected from MSU alum and faculty emerita, such as diaries, notebooks, letters, scrapbooks, and photographs.
Research for the Capturing Campus Cuisine project focused on both the formal and informal archival material. Much of our energy this semester was focused on the account books from the boarding halls from 1866 to 1874 to document the types of foods the early college was purchasing to feed students.
But this only tells us the raw ingredients they used, not the recipes they were preparing and consuming on the early campus. Informal sources such as student diaries and letters shed a bit more light on this topic, including student perceptions of the food (which was not favorable). Banquet menus from early campus galas provided information about the dishes eaten on special occasions rather than on an everyday basis, shown to the left (Image courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections).
We also used the MSU Library Special Collections department, which is home to a vast array of rare and unique books, including the Cookery and Food Collection, which includes over 10,000 cookbooks. They also created Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, an online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century.
Here we were able to glean the popular dishes and recipes from the time period, and cookbooks created by churches in places such as Port Huron, Ann Arbor, and Lansing itself allowed for insight into local food preferences.
Together, these documentary resources helped us shape our interpretation of nineteenth-century campus cuisine and informed our historic MSU meal recreation.