Films and their Quirky Descriptions

9 07 2014

Have you ever seen a label to something that made you want to know more?  While working with 16mm films until you can view the film to see the content you often have to rely on the descriptions on the films’ canisters to provide an initial summary of information. Currently the film canister description is the only known information about a film because the films have not been digitized. The information can be as simple as “MSU VS. UCLA” or “ON CAMPUS 1961-1962”; though there is some film canister description that is fascinating out of context. Below are three curious examples found so far in the film collections.

The first film is titled “DEER PEOPLE OF ATHENS”, which at first glance sounds like a B horror movie. As much as it would be fascinating for the film to be a quirky B horror movie,  a quick Google search leads one to assume that the film is most likely associated with Athens, Michigan. One cannot be sure of the film’s actual contents until it is actually viewed, but any preliminary information is critical.

Film canister text

Interesting label found on a film canister

Some film canisters also contain additional information about a film. This is usually information about how a film is fragile or if the film is part of a series of other films.  Sometimes though, films contain information that doesn’t really correspond with the film in the can. An example of this is “MSU VS INDIANA 31 OCT 81 11 ON 11 – KEEPA YOU HANDS OFF !!!!!!!!” or “MSU VS NOTRE DAME 3 OCT 81 11 ON 11 ORIGINAL KEEPA YOU HANDS OFF OR DIE”.  The films are both in much better condition than other materials in the film collections but whoever originally wrote the label information was adamant that people do not handle the film for some unknown reason. Safe to say, the intern did not die handling the films so far, though if there are any curses on the materials, it remains to be seen.


This is the first in a series of blogs about the film collections at the MSU Archives.  An intern was hired to work on the film collections with funds from the MSU Film and Video Preservation Fund.

One Degree of Robert De Niro…

22 05 2014

We are always discovering interesting new connections at the MSU Archives & Historical Collections! In late April, we found a link to a celebrity not previously associated with MSU: Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro.

An associate from Megan Fox Kelly Art Advisory in New York City, advisor to the Estate of the actor’s father Robert De Niro, Sr., called to inquire about his teaching career at MSU. Megan Fox Kelly was hoping for information that would help them develop a more in-depth chronology of the elder De Niro’s distinguished career as a visual artist.

De Niro, Sr. staff bio file revealed that he had taught painting and drawing as a visiting artist in spring 1974. In addition to a biographical form noting Bobby De Niro as his closest family relationship, the file included a detailed curriculum vitae that proved useful to Megan Fox Kelly.

For information on Robert De Niro, Sr.’s, work, see the Estate’s website at

MSU Archives Open By Appointment Only

20 05 2014

Thursday, May 22 through August 2014, the University Archives will be open by appointment only.  This is due to construction occurring in Conrad Hall during the summer.  Currently, we require 24 hours’ notice in order to retrieve materials. This may change, depending on accessibility of our collections.

We may need to have periodic closings throughout the summer.  If you plan to visit the MSU Archives to do research please let us know ahead of time so we can try to accommodate. 

As soon as we have more information, we will update this blog and our website.

We apologize for any inconvenience the construction may cause.  Please contact us with any questions, comments, or concerns.  Our contact information can be found here:

Conrad Hall Construction Update

14 05 2014

As previously mentioned on this blog, the HVAC system in Conrad Hall will be upgraded this summer.  The MSU Archives will be moving our collections from Conrad Hall in order to accommodate this construction.  This will greatly impact our ability to provide access to our collections.  Tentatively, we plan to remain open, however, we may need to have periodic closings or hours by appointment only.  If you plan to visit the MSU Archives this summer to do research please let us know ahead of time so we can try to accommodate.  We will need at least 24 hours notice to retrieve materials starting Monday, May 19, 2014.

As soon as we have more information, we will update this blog and our website.

We apologize for any inconvenience the construction may cause.  Please contact us with any questions, comments, or concerns.  Our contact information can be found here:

Upcoming Closings

24 04 2014




The Michigan State University Archives will be closed Monday, May 5 through Friday, May 9, 2014 for our annual Spring Cleaning Week.


Additionally, from May through August, the HVAC system in Conrad Hall will be updated.  This will require the University Archives to be closed sporadically  throughout the summer.   Unfortunately, at this time we do not know exactly when or for how long we will need to close.  If you plan to visit the MSU Archives this summer to do research please let us know ahead of time so we can try to accommodate.    As soon as we have more information, we will update this blog and our website.

We apologize for any inconvenience these closings may cause.  Please contact us with any questions, comments, or concerns.  Our contact information can be found here:

MSU Film and Video Preservation Fund

1 04 2014

Are we losing our campus history?



Stacks of films in the MSU Archives

The Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections have hundreds of film reels and videotapes documenting Spartan football, basketball and other sports from the 1930s to the 1990s, when digital cameras took over. Almost exclusively the film is 16mm, with a mixture of color, black & white, audio & no audio. The video comes in a variety of formats, with the majority being VHS, ¾”, 1”, Betacam and DVCAM.

A sample of video tape formats in the MSU Archives

A sample of video tape formats in the MSU Archives


This film and video collection is vulnerable to degradation of its media, and must be restored and digitized soon – before the content is lost. Our plan is to put this important digitized film and video online along with complementary materials to showcase the people and events.


The film and video collection also includes valuable footage that documents the history of the Spartan Marching Band, WKAR Productions, MSU International Programs, and 4H and Cooperative Extension events. Together, the materials document the special place of MSU sports, music, and youth development to Michigan life and culture. Some highlights of the collection include: White House Christmas (1954), REO clubhouse films, State High School Basketball Finals (1949), MSU Commencements, “This is the Big Ten” (1965), MSU Marching band (1939-1980s), Alumni reunions, and Recitals. Samples of digitized materials can be found on our Spartan History website, .


The University Archives holds a number of film reels documenting MSU’s involvement in Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dr. Charles Keith, professor of history, finds this material an invaluable resource. “The archives of MSU’s projects in Vietnam are a valuable piece of the history of the university’s engagement with the world.  As controversies over the Vietnam War fade, these archives remain a crucial source for understanding the situation in South Vietnam in the early years of the Cold War, and how the university envisioned and carried out global engagement in this complex political and cultural moment.  For me, this collection has been a priceless resource both to pursue my own research in Vietnamese history and to better understand the history of my own institution.”


Close up of Spartan Football films

Close up of Spartan Football films

You can help preserve these important pieces of Spartan history with a gift to the MSU Film and Video Preservation Fund! A gift of $50, $100, or $500 will greatly assist our digitization efforts. Your help will not only prevent the loss of these deteriorating materials but bring new life to these resources by providing access to researchers and others to enjoy. These materials contain valuable visual glimpses into our past! DVD copies will also be available for purchase as another way to help fund the program.


Join the team and help save these priceless Spartan memories!


To help preserve this history:

An archivist views a film from the MSU Archives' collections

An archivist views a film from the MSU Archives’ collections












Written by Ed Busch, Electronic Records Archivist

Greek Life at MSU

17 03 2014

Student groups and organizations have always been a part of the MSU’s history. Literary societies, activism groups and even squirrel watching clubs have shaped student life at the University since its beginning. MSU has also been home to one of the most iconic collegiate groups that has spurred on movies, books and television series, Greek Life.

Greek Life started at M.A.C in 1872 with the establishment of Delta Tau Delta. They were followed by Phi Delta Theta in 1873. However in 1896 the faculty banned national Greek organizations from forming at the College. Phi Delta Theta chose to be recognized as a local organization by changing their name to the Phi Delta Society. Due to the ban, many non-Greek societies began to form. The Union Literary Society, the Hesperian Literary Society and the Excelsior Society were among them.  In 1891 the first all-women’s group, the Feronian Society, was established. They were founded just five years before the creation of the Women’s Program in 1896. Academic and literary societies sought not only to have a forum for intelligent conversations, but also to plan and attend extravagant events and balls.

Members of the Phi Delta Society in the 1920 Wolverine Yearbook

Literary Societies also sought off campus housing, at the exclusivity of their members. However President Snyder was great proponent of the collegiate dormitory system and found this idea to be elitist and unnecessary. In 1905 the College did not have enough living spaces to accommodate all of its students. The faculty relented and allowed the Hesperian Society and the Colombian Society to buy its own meeting houses off campus.


The Trimoira Literary Society established at M.S.C in 1913

The 1920s gave way to an increase in students attending M.A.C and the lack of housing led faculty to allow off campus housing for more society members. In 1921 the ban on national Greek organizations was lifted and the first organizations to be established were the Alpha Gamma Delta and Alpha Phi Sororities. Alpha Phi was created by members of the Feronian Society.  Following them were the Forensic Society, who became Lambda Chi Alpha and the agriculturally based fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.

Members of Alpha Phi in 1925

Throughout the 1920s more and more literary societies became affiliated with national Greek organizations. The Aurorean Literary Society became Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity in 1923. Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity was forged from the Dorian Literary Society in 1924. In 1925 the Orphic Literary Society became Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. From then on Greek life grew and became an integral part of MSU student life.

Competition has always been an important aspect of Greek Life. Chapters held Tug of War across the Red Cedar River, Chess Tournaments in local houses, as well as academic achievement contests throughout the school year. In 1930 Sigma Kappa Sorority won an exciting victory for overall best GPA on campus. They narrowly defeated the previous year’s winner, Alpha Chi Omega.

During the 1940s, World War II led to an overall decline in male enrollment at M.S.C. Fraternity houses were used to lodge coeds, due to a lack of women’s housing. Houses were also used by the Army and local R.O.T.C chapters. After the War, the G.I Bill allowed more and more students to attend college and Greek Life at M.S.C once again became a popular student activity.

In 1948 the first African American fraternity at the college was established by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. They were committed to philanthropic service to all mankind and to the advancement of interracial groups at the college. The first African American sorority at M.S.C. was Alpha Kappa Alpha. They were established in 1954 and engaged in such as activities as reading to the blind and giving campus tours. Today MSU proudly hosts all nine historically African American Greek organizations on its campus.

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in the 1950s

In the 1950s Greek life continued to expand. In 1959 the count was up to 20 nationally recognized sororities and 34 fraternities. All of these organizations participated in campus wide events such as Spartacade, Greek Sing, Water Carnival, Greek Week and Homecoming festivities. One fall, the Kappa Sigma fraternity bought a World War II era plane from a local bar owner for $40. They set it up outside of their house so that it appeared to have crashed into the side of their house. They placed a dummy inside and splattered the whole thing in ketchup for dramatic effect. A sign beside it read “He rushed Kappa Sigma but didn’t quite make it!”

1957 photo of Winter Carnival Float created by Alpha Omicron Pi and Theta Chi

1951 outdoor homecoming display of William and Mary’s execution on the lawn of Phi Delta Theta.

Greek Life saw its decline in the 1970s. Campus dorm life became less restrictive and the traditions of fraternity and sorority members seemed to be out of date. Many chapters closed due to lack of membership; including Alpha Omicron Pi in 1972 (the chapter was re-established in 1989).

In more recent years Greek life at MSU has seen a steady increase with recruitment and rush numbers moving well into the thousands. In November of 2013, 141 years after the first fraternity established at MSU, the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council became recognized by the University.

Photo courtesy of MSU GreekLife: Representatives from Panhellenic Council and Interfraterity Council pose with President Simon and others at the recognizing of Greek Life by the University.


Michigan State University Archives, “African American Presence at MSU; Historic Firsts.” Accessed March 12, 2014.

Michigan State University Greek Life, “MSU Greek Life: History and Future.” Last modified January 01, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2014.

The 1959 Wolverine Yearbook, Michigan State University.

Thomas, David A. Michigan State College: John Hannah and the Creation of a World University. 1926-1969. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Widder, Keith R. Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land-Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005.

Written By Caroline Voisine


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