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April 22, 2019

Capturing MSU history for future Spartans

Working at MSU is a chance to be part of the history and legacy of the university that began in 1855, when the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, now Michigan State University, became the nation’s pioneer land-grant college.

With more than 160 years of history and stories to tell, record-keeping and archives are some of the university’s biggest challenges. That’s where MSU Archives and Historical Collections comes in. Working alongside MSU Libraries and the MSU Museum, university archivists work to identify, preserve and catalog thousands of documents, photos, videos and film. MSU Archives is how the university captures past and present moments of faculty, staff and students and preserves them for future generations of Spartans.

Through their initiative, Voices of MSU, archives is working to expand their focus to reflect the breadth and diversity of the MSU community. The project looks to tell stories through recorded interviews, highlighting current and historical experiences and achievements of minority students, faculty and staff. Learn more at

Since MSU Archives was established in 1969, staff have been working to document the university’s story.

In addition to capturing the stories of the people at the heart of MSU: faculty, staff and students, archivists such as Whitney Miller work to document the growth and changes on campus, physically and socially.

“It’s our job to collect and make available information that highlights the rich history that we have here at MSU,” Miller said. “I pursued a job at the MSU Archives because of my love for the university and its history.”

Currently, MSU Archives is working on capturing the modern student experience by archiving social media pages, threads and videos.

“One of the most important things about my job is not only discovering and caring for historical items, but sharing them,” Miller said. “Our collection of online resources allows us to bring campus history to the community.”

When asked why she loves her job at MSU, Miller said: “My favorite part of this job is discovering new pieces of information and stories that have never been told or are long forgotten and making them available for all to enjoy.”

Miller is an MSU alum has worked in archives since 1998. To find out more about MSU’s rich history, visit

Capturing history at MSU goes a step further than cataloguing documents and artifacts, however. The MSU Shadows program encapsulates MSU’s history through its trees.

Headed by Dan Brown, sustainable bioproducts specialist, MSU Shadows upcycles harvested trees across campus and turns them into furniture and works of art.

Launched in 2014, during the peak of the emerald ash borer outbreak, MSU Shadows was the university’s solution for managing campus wood waste sustainably.

On average, around 300 trees are removed on campus per year for one reason or another. However, due to the unconstrained growing conditions and issues with harvesting and milling open-grown trees, urban wood is not typically deemed as valuable as traditional lumber. MSU Shadows is looking to change that with a cradle-to-cradle approach that gives new life to urban wood and prevents it from being landfilled.

“This program is helping bring awareness to the value of urban wood,” Brown said. “Urban environments are a unique, untapped resource for wood products, and the MSU Arboretum is home to a wide variety of tree species that aren’t typically used for woodworking.”

“If you’re a woodworker, this is a dream job,” he said.

“There are not many other places to harvest specialty lumber like this.”

Brown is a graduate of the MSU Forestry program and has worked with the Department of Forestry since 2015.

To take a piece of campus history home with you, check out the MSU Shadows products available for purchase at the MSU Surplus Store or learn more at