Written by: Katy Meyers Emery
Primary Source: MSU Campus Archaeology Program Blog, September 10, 2015
Understanding the cultural heritage of an institution is important – it not only helps us define who we are, but where we came from and how we can protect our history for future generations. During summer 2014, Dr. Lynne Goldstein taught a course on Methods in Cultural Heritage to a group of senior undergraduate and graduate students. As part of the course, we developed an outline for a cultural heritage plan for MSU. Over the last year, this plan has developed slowly into a more robust document, and over the next couple weeks, it is my goal to complete the plan and have it ready for submission to the university.
Cultural heritage is the legacy of a group, community or society that is inherited from previous generations, maintained by the current generation, and is endowed to the future generations. It includes tangible, intangible and natural forms of culture. At MSU, our tangible cultural heritage includes monuments, buildings, art and artifacts, such as Beaumont Tower, the Broad Art Museum, ‘The Rock’, and the work we do as part of Campus Archaeology- the artifacts and historic buildings we find hidden beneath our feet. Intangible cultural heritage includes folklore, songs, knowledge and traditions, such as the persistence of the saying “Go Green, Go White”, wearing green, passing down the fight song to new students, and the tradition of painting the rock. Finally, we also have a strong natural heritage, which consists of all the landscapes and biodiversity on campus like the Red Cedar River, historic sacred space, Beal Gardens, our diverse range of squirrels and the wooded lots on campus.
A cultural heritage plan is a living document that identifies, protects and manages all types of tangible, intangible and natural heritage within a given group or community. MSU already has a number of plans that set the course of how the university plans to develop over the upcoming years, including President Simon’s Bolder by Design and Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities’ 2020 Vision Plan. While both these plans note the importance of stewardship and continuing a historically based Spartan legacy, our cultural heritage plan makes these aspects more explicit and builds upon the other plans. If we want future generations of Spartans to understand the true legacy of their identity, we need to explicitly determine how we will protect and promote that heritage.
Currently, I’m at the stage of writing the document where I’m trying to come up with tangible activities and assessment for engaging current stakeholders in their heritage. The plan is not just a record of what is important- it is a guide for how to make this heritage known and accessible. We are coming up with a range of ways for engaging with students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader East Lansing community so that it isn’t just us worrying about cultural heritage- it is also all of the stakeholders who are invested in it. Within the next couple weeks, we will have a draft of the plan available and more ideas of how to put it into action!