This past week has been a very busy one for the Campus Archaeology Program. We began the process of putting together a press release about the confirming of the dates of the Sand Dune located behind Munn Ice Arena, and then also discovered the northeast corner of College Hall, the first academic building built on MSU’s campus. That process was fun and enjoyable: the people at University Relations were careful to make sure they understood every part of the story; they asked important questions; they even helped us take some photos that we needed done, and made a great video about our program. They were engaged in our work, and invested in our message.
Once the press release hit, things started to get a little bit crazy. Yesterday we did an interview with the Lansing State Journal, interviews with three television programs, and a radio spot on the MSU radio station. We have also been interviewed multiple times by the StateNews. Just this morning I received a telephone call from a radio reporter at an NPR station in Detroit. The results have been mixed: LSJ produced a fantastic story; much of the TV news coverage was cut short (and rightly so) due to GMs big news; and one report was downright confusing (Sandwiches?).
What has been interesting for me is the relationship between the media and the people telling the story. In my first draft of this post, I made it sound as if the interpretations of the site’s importance were wrong…that wasn’t what I meant to say. There was a bit of misinformation out there, but there’s not much you can do about that. What was interesting was being a part of the process of what makes it in to the story and what doesn’t. Campus Archaeology tried to emphasize certain parts of the story, particularly the linkage between the Sand Dune’s historical component and its linkage to MSU and our Land Grant heritage. We also did our best to mention that we’d found the first building built on MSU’s campus. What was emphasized, however, was the fact that there was an old Dune on campus, not on the lake shore where everyone in Michigan typically think they would be. All true, all important, just not the whole story.
This is particularly interesting considering what I do for a living: I am particularly intrigued with the elements of history that don’t make it into the history books; the parts that aren’t recorded, and the process by which things are left out. Certainly, there is no comparison between this and the fact that enslaved African Americans were denied a voice. I’m not claiming there are any injustices that have been done here. It was, however, interesting to be a part of the process, however slight. I said a lot of things to a lot of people yesterday, and they had the opportunity to choose what was and wasn’t worth making public. That’s fine, I understand that they only had a certain amount of time to fill, and had to make it interesting to a wide audience. It was simply an interesting experience for me.
In all, I have learned a lot from the entire process. I think we (or at least I was) were somewhat surprised with the amount of coverage we ended up getting, and maybe could have been better prepared to emphasize certain elements in place of others. All in all, it has been a valuable experience; certainly one I would not have gotten with any other job I could have had during my time in graduate school.