From its earliest years, the records of the University have been collected and preserved on an informal basis by esteemed faculty, staff, and even former presidents. These people felt the history of the University was important to maintain, even if there was no office officially responsible for that duty. Throughout the years there were six of these College Historians – T. C. Abbot, Robert C. Kedzie, William James Beal, Frank Kedzie, Elida Yakeley, and Madison Kuhn.
In the 1960s another professor became interested in preserving the history of the University. William H. Combs had served a distinguished career at the University, which included serving as a professor of history, assistant to President John Hannah, and later as Director of University Services. While working as an administrator he wanted to see a permanent office responsible for managing University records. In 1968 Combs was appointed by the Board of Trustees as MSU’s first Director of Archives, even though the University Archives had not yet been created.
Combs visited numerous archival repositories, and attended professional meetings in order to make his recommendations to the Board of Trustees as to how the archives should be structured. On November 21, 1969, the Board of Trustees formally established the University Archives with responsibility for collecting and preserving inactive records for all units in the University which have legal, administrative, fiscal, or historical value. The recommendations by Combs were the basis for the structure of the University Archives. The archives also serves as a repository for the personal papers of faculty, administrators, and alumni. In the mid-1970s a records management program was added to the University Archives making the preserving of the University’s records a more efficient process.
The Historical Collections represent material that are not directly related to MSU, but serve as valuable research materials for people interested in agriculture, Michigan history, or other topics relevant to a land-grant institution. The program has roots going back to 1950 when the MSU Museum, under the directorship of Professor Joseph Stack, expanded its acquisition policy to include historical artifacts and manuscript materials relating principally to rural life.
Recognizing the importance of such a collection to research and teaching, the Museum under director Dr. Rollin Baker established a curatorship of historical artifacts and manuscripts with Dr. Frank Elliot as the first curator. Succeeding him in this work was Dr. Marvin Cain, whose efforts led to the establishment of the program in Land Grant Research. The objective of this program was to collect research materials on the origins and development of the land grant philosophy in education.
In July 1967 the Historical Collections and the program in Land Grant Research were detached from the Museum and made a separate unit in the administrative structure of the University under the supervision of the Provost. On September 1, 1970 the Board of Trustees administratively joined the Historical Collections with the archives under the title University Archives & Historical Collections, with the provision that the Land Grant Research program be a part of the Historical Collections.