Cultural and Historical Collections

Michigan State University Museum’s collections are the tangible evidence of the diversity of nature and human cultures throughout the world and through time.

Included are materials that are thousands of years old and those made recently; handmade and mass-produced items; cultural objects from around the world with a special emphasis on Michigan and the Great Lakes; and unique items and collections that cannot be found in any other repository in the world. Some are accompanied by extensive documentation and associated information; others are primary source materials that will enable scholarly research.

Researchers, teachers, students, artists, and community members mine these collections to create new knowledge, to be inspired, and to spark others’ curiosity and imagination.


Image for AnthropologyThe Museum’s Anthropology Collection features synoptic representative groups of historic and contemporary objects of everyday non-Western life. Representing the material culture of a broad array of indigenous ethnic groups from six continents, with a regional forte in African material culture.
The Archaeology Collection, numbering approximately 750,000 artifacts, contains the artifacts and assemblages of sites excavated throughout the world but with a strong focus on Eastern North America. The collection is one of the largest repositories of Great Lakes archaeology collections in North America and is closely affiliated with the Michigan State University Department of Anthropology and Consortium for Archaeological Research.

Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Image for FolklifeThe Folklife and Cultural Heritage Collections document and preserve the traditional beliefs, objects, and practices of human cultures. The Folklife collection documents the vernacular expression of aesthetics and meaning in everyday life, while the Cultural Heritage Collection celebrates objects that display the material expression of identity, history, and memory by multiple groups around the globe. These collections include objects, interviews, field notes, and photographs, part of which were generated by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program.


Image for HistoryThe History Collection, numbering 100,000 objects, encompasses the material culture of nineteenth- and twentieth-century everyday life, with a focus on the United States and particularly the Great Lakes region. Collection strengths include advertising and packaging, agricultural and rural life, Michigan State University history, and domestic technology.

Welcome to the Michigan State University Museum Cultural Collections Portal. Click Search Now to explore selections from some of our collections through our collections database.

The MSU Museum collections database is a work in progress, and does not necessary represent the best available knowledge for each object.

We continue to research the collections and update and correct the information in the database in a timely fashion. Any information provided must be read with care.

The cultural collections are available for onsite research and university class use by appointment only, contingent on staff and space availability. Please complete a Research Request form and contact the following staff, according to your area of interest:

Upon arrival, visitors will need to sign the Policies Governing Use of Materials form.

Archaeological Collections

Lynne Swanson

Dress Collections

Mary Worrall

Folklife and Cultural Heritage Collections

Lynne Swanson

History Collections

Lynne Swanson


Mary Worrall

World Cultures Collections

Lynne Swanson

Loans are made to institutions not individuals. Loan correspondence shall originate from an official representative of the borrowing institution and responses will be made to that individual. The borrowing institution must have facilities to properly house and care for museum objects. Loans are made for a six-month period. The MSU Museum does not issue permanent or indefinite loans. Certain categories of artifacts are never loaned; these include rare, fragile, unique, artifacts and type specimens.

Loan requests are made using the Loan Request form, should be directed to the Collections Manager and are subject to curatorial approval.

Terms for Outgoing Loans form

Rights and Reproductions

Materials from the Michigan State University Museum Collections are solely for educational and scholarly uses. The materials may be used in reports, research, and other projects that are not offered for sale.  Granting or withholding of permission for commercial or public use is determined on an individual basis, and a usage fee is required.

All use of materials require written permission from the Michigan State University Museum or appropriate copyright holder.

Users please take note that the materials made available through the MSU Museum web site may be subject to additional restrictions including but not limited to copyright and the rights of privacy and publicity,  of parties other than the Research Collections.  Users are solely responsible for determining the existence of such rights and for obtaining any other permissions, and paying associated fees, which may be necessary for the proposed use.

All materials used in any type of publication or production must be credited with the following credit line:
Courtesy of Michigan State University Museum

Additional information on the credit line might include a collection name, accession number, artist or photographer.

Additional information will be supplied by the Research Collections.

Please contact the Collections Coordinator for further information:

Lynne Swanson, Collections Manager
Michigan State University Museum
570 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing MI  48824

Please consult our Fee Structure, then complete a Research Request Form or Media Request Form for any materials you wish to use.

Interested in donating objects or archival materials to MSU Museum cultural and historical collections?

Please contact the following staff person, according to the type of material that you have:

Archaeological Collections

Jodie O’Gorman

Apparel and Textile Collections

Mary Worrall

Folklife and Cultural Heritage Collections

Marsha MacDowell

History Collections

Lynne Swanson


Marsha MacDowell

World Cultures Collections

Lynne Swanson

Basic and applied research projects based on the Michigan State University Museum's Cultural Collections engage theories and practices informed by the scholarly disciplines of art history, cultural anthropology, cultural geography, folklore, history and historic preservation, and emerging subject-based and interdisciplinary fields.

Individuals and organizations from diverse communities initiate and collaborate in research projects. Research teams include both on- and off-campus members.

Projects include discovery research and inventorying (especially of intangible and tangible traditional cultural resources or assets), evaluation and assessment, creation of digital collections tools, etc.

Documentation (sound recordings, photographs, videotapes, field notes, reports, ephemera, objects, etc.) is deposited in the MSU Museum's Cultural Collections and the Michigan Traditional Arts Research Collections.

Research data has formed the basis for a wide variety of outcomes, including cultural policies, technical reports, exhibitions, festival programs, educational curricula, publications, and papers for both scholarly and general public audiences.

For information about particular projects, see the Michigan Traditional Arts Program.

About the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP)

What is folklife?
A Brief History of MTAP
MTAP staff

What is folklife?

"Folklife" or "folklore" are often used as synonyms for "traditional culture" or simply "tradition." As practiced by ethnic, regional, occupational, familial, and religious groups, folklife refers to the traditional expressions through which these communities maintain and pass on their shared sense of beauty, identity, and values.

Generally, folklife is learned by example, through imitation and repetition, rather than through formal instruction such as classes or workshops. Ordinarily, valued and authentic folk practitioners are brought up within a traditional community, learning a repertoire and style from their seniors.

Folklore tends to express the values, tastes, and standards of the cultural community which sustains it. Through a lifetime of practice, tradition bearers refine and reshape their skills, while maintaining the cultural and aesthetic values of their own communities.

Folklore is one of the more conservative aspects of culture, based on patterns, styles, and beliefs shared within specific cultural communities. Tradition bearers are motivated, through the act of creating, to preserve a traditional form that carries group identity and not necessarily to express an innovative personal vision.

Folklore, however, is also a dynamic aspect of culture. "Folklore" describes living traditions that often change over time in response to a changing society.

A Brief History of MTAP

The Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP), develops and implements programs "to advance cross-cultural understanding in a diverse society through the identification, documentation, preservation, and presentation of the traditional arts and cultural heritage of the state of Michigan."

The Michigan State University Museum first initiated ongoing research and presentation of Michigan traditional arts in 1975 with a statewide survey and 1976 exhibition of historical folk art. In 1977, the Folk Arts Division of Michigan State University Museum joined with the Michigan Cooperative Extension Service to provide statewide educational programming and general public services in the area of Michigan's traditional cultural resources. In 1986, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs created a partnership with the Michigan State University Museum to strengthen the support of folk arts and artists in the state.

The activities of the Folk Arts Division to promote awareness, appreciation, and support for Michigan's traditional cultural resources through research, education, and public service are now coordinated under a program known as the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP). Among the major ongoing or long-term MTAP programs are: the annual Festival of Michigan Folklife (1987-1997), the Michigan Heritage Awards (since 1985), the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (since 1987), the Michigan Quilt Project (since 1984), the FOLKPATTERNS program (since 1979), and the Michigan Stained Glass Census (since 1990).

MTAP's longstanding role in coordinating a statewide folklife festival began with the 1985 "Michigan: Whose Story?" festival. In 1987, MTAP collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution to present Michigan's folk artists at the Festival of American Folklife. That same year, MTAP brought the Smithsonian's Michigan program to Michigan with the launching of the Festival of Michigan Folklife. For the twelve years producing that festival, MTAP conducted field research to identify over 1200 folk artists for presentation at the festivals. In 1999, MTAP forged a new partnership with the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Washington D.C., and the City of East Lansing, to co-produce the National Folk Festival 1999-2001. Beginning in 2002, MTAP continues the festival tradition with the launching of the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

Since the mid-1980s MTAP staff have met regularly with state folk arts program staff around the U.S. and have played key roles in state and national arts policy development, evaluation studies, and professional development and training opportunities for both traditional artists and program administrators.

MTAP staff

Staff with day-to-day full- or part-time responsibilities for MTAP collections or activities:

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D., Curator of Folk Arts
Beth Donaldson, Collections Assistant, Great Lakes Quilt Center and MTAP Research Collections; Manager, Traveling Exhibits Service, and Co-Coordinator, Michigan Stained Glass Census
Julie Levy-Weston, Special Projects Coordinator; Traveling Exhibits Program and
Micah Ling, Collections Assistant
Marsha MacDowell, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Art and Art History and Curator
Stephanie Palagyi, Communications
Mike Secord, Director, Great Lakes Folk Festival, Facilities Manager, Special Events Coordinator
Lynne Swanson, Collections Manager, Cultural Collections
Sunny Wang, Computing Technology Coordinator
Pearl Yee Wong, Collections Coordinator, MTAP Research Collections
Mary Worrall, Curator of Cultural Heritage

Affiliates who regularly assist in carrying out responsibilities for MTAP collections or activities:

Noel Allende-Goitia, Ph.D., Research Associate, MSUM
John Beck, Ph.D., Adjunct Curator and Co-coordinator, "Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lives" Program, Labor Education, MSUM
Frank Ettawegeshik, Coordinator, Native American Arts Initiative Project, MSUM
Isaac Kalumbu, Ph.D., Adjunct Curator, MSUM; Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology, MSU
Peter Knupfer, Ph.D., Associate Director, MATRIX
Mark Kornbluh, Ph.D., Professor of History, Director, MATRIX
Barbara Kreuger, Research Associate, MSUM; Michigan Stained Glass Census
Diana N'Diaye, Ph.D., Folklife Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D., Associate Professor, UM, and Adjunct Curator, MSUM; Coordinator, "Lest We Forget: Detroit Gospel Legends" Project, MSUM and GPAC
Justine Richardson, MATRIX, Associate Researcher
Ray Silverman, Ph.D.; Adjunct Curator, MSUM: Professor, Art History
Laurie K. Sommers, Ph.D. Research Associate, MSUM; Assistant Professor, Ethnomusicology at Valdosta State University
Steve Stier, Research Associate, MSUM; Michigan Barn Preservation Network
Yvonne Lockwood, Ph.D., Curator of Folklife Emeritus

And these MSU Museum faculty and staff member who provide regular support:
Teresa Goforth, Exhibts Manager
Jilda Anthony, Assistant to Director

In addition, MTAP is supported by interns, volunteers, students, and contracted


Archaeological and Ethnographic Collections

The Division of Anthropology maintains extensive archaeological and ethnographic research and teaching collections at the Consortium for Archaeological Research at McDonel Hall, and in the Cultural Collections Research and Education Center in the Central Services Building.

The archaeological and ethnographic teaching collections are regularly utilized by faculty across the MSU campus as a vehicle through which to familiarize students with subject matter through direct, hands on, contact with cultural objects of varying age from North America and around the world. The ethnographic teaching collections have been built through systematic and judicious acquisitions from donors, with the goal of broad representation of the material culture of major cultural groups worldwide. The core of the archaeological teaching collection is a large group of objects donated to the MSU Museum by the Boudeman Estate in the 1950s, and representing an array of past cultural objects from around the globe. The Boudeman Collection has been supplemented by additional donations as well as the purchase of replica artifacts for classroom use.

Research Collections

The extensive Division of Anthropology research collections are curated and housed at the Consortium for Archaeological Research and at the Central Services Building. These collections are regularly employed for research by MSU faculty and visiting scholars, as well as by graduate students involved in thesis and dissertation research. The archaeological collections are focused on Michigan and the Great Lakes. Several regions of Michigan are well represented in the MSU Museum collections by both survey and intensive excavation over the past fifty or more years of work by Museum curators, supplemented by the judicious acceptance of well documented private collections. Regional collection strengths include Traverse Bay and northwestern lower Michigan, the Pere Marquette River, upper Grand River, and Saginaw River basins. There are significant excavated site collections from northern lower Michigan, the Straits of Mackinac, the Saginaw River, and the MSU campus. The research collections have been greatly enhanced by addition of the extensive Butterfield/Schmidt Collection, and the Great Lakes Gas Transmission Pipeline Project collections, both from the Saginaw River drainage of Michigan.

The ethnographic research collections have at their core a series of well documented objects from specific cultural groups and collected by knowledgeable researchers as part of field based research projects. Among the highlights of these research collections are the Robbins Turkana and San collections, the Blackburn Okiek collection, the Ellison Ethiopian collection, and the McCann Navajo saddle blanket and basket collection. The ethnographic research collections have clear strengths in African societies.

Enhanced collections curation is an ongoing goal of the Division of Anthropology. Primary records have been reorganized, archivally stored, and housed in fireproof cabinets. Collection-specific activity has been funded by organizations such as the Strosacker Foundation and the Great Lakes Gas Transmission Pipeline Company. The division has received several major Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grants to completely rehouse the archaeological collections. Curator O’Gorman has also completed the incorporation of decades of research materials from the Marquette Mission site in St. Ignace into a GIS database for comprehensive synthetic analysis, curation, and consultation under NAGPRA.

Research and Scholarship

Through the activities of Curatorial Staff, Adjunct Faculty, Research Associates, and students engaged in collections based research the Division of Anthropology maintains a high scholarly profile at the regional, national and international level. Division of Anthropology curators undertake regular fieldwork across Michigan and the Great Lakes, with funding from competitive granting agencies and contracts from public and private agencies. Ongoing current research projects focus on the coastal zone of Lake Michigan including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on the MSU campus, sustained work in the Saginaw River drainage of Michigan, and at the Marquette Mission Site in St. Ignace augment more than half a century of research dedicated to understanding the indigenous and Euro-American presence in the Great Lakes region since the retreat of the last glaciers. Division curators and adjuncts routinely collaborate with researchers in other disciplines from the social, natural, and physical sciences and the humanities, engage in forensic research, and are involved in the formulation of legislation and public policy. Numerous dissertations and theses, as well as publications including books, research monographs, book chapters and refereed journal articles have resulted from work in divisional collections, and many more are in progress.

Outreach, Engagement, and Public Programming

Through the Consortium for Archaeological Research the Division of Anthropology participates in a broad range of activities designed to foster professional collaboration, support avocational interests, and enhance public education. Staff, students, and adjuncts in the Division of Anthropology regularly provide presentations to school groups and public audiences, including the annual Archaeology Day celebration hosted by the Office of the State Archaeologist at the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. The CAR facilities at McDonel Hall are regularly utilized by the Upper Grand Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society (MAS), the state avocational archaeological organization. Divisional curators and collection managers are central figures in professional organizations, and are often called on to provide expert advice to government and private enterprise. Further, curatorial staff and adjuncts provide important direction for public exhibitions, most recently at the Charlevoix Historical Society Museum and in multiple exhibits at the MSU Museum, making important new finds accessible to the larger public.

Programmatic Collaborations

Faculty, staff, and students in the Division of Anthropology are affiliated with a range of programs on and off the Michigan State University campus, as well as at other educational institutions. Curators and adjuncts regularly participate in the American Indian Studies Program (AISP), the Quaternary Landscapes Research Group (QLRG), the Canadian Studies Centre (CSC), the Center for European and Russian Studies (CERS), and other programs across the MSU campus including the Campus Archaeology Program (CAP). Current staff research engages inter-institutional collaborations with the Illinois State Museum, the New York State Museum, the Indiana Geological Survey at Indiana University, and the School of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, UK.

The Michigan State University Consortium for Archaeological Research (CAR) was founded in 1995 as a joint endeavor of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the College of Social Science, and the College of Arts and Letters. The initial institutional troika was joined by the Office of Outreach and Engagement during 2005. The immediate goal of the collaboration was to bring together faculty from related disciplines in archaeology, ancient studies, physical anthropology, paleoenvironmental change, and history with common and overlapping research interests and facilities needs. The overarching mission of CAR “is dedicated to research and dissemination of knowledge about past human societies through the use of written documentation and the material remains of past human behavior.”

This common goal was realized with the assignment of substantial space in McDonel Hall jointly administered by the participating units, including a collections repository, research laboratories, faculty offices, support facilities including computer labs and archival space for maps, records, and photo documentation, as well as teaching and seminar spaces. The consolidation of faculty, students, collections, and instructional facilities into a single location has created a critical mass of highly productive archaeological scholars with research interests in North America, Mesoamerica, Europe, and Africa across a broad variety of contemporary research topics and time periods. Consortium archaeologists find common interest in topics such as hunting and gathering adaptations, palaeo-environmental change, the transition to food production, the organization of state level societies, processes of culture contact, and the mortuary behavior, biology and nutrition of past populations. The more than a dozen participating CAR faculty are, periodically, augmented by visiting pre- and post-Doctoral fellows from the United States and abroad, which most recently included a Fulbright Fellow.

The MSU Museum Division of Anthropology continues to play a significant role in CAR, through close partnership with the Department of Anthropology. The results of more than four decades of MSU archaeological research are housed at CAR, including critical artifact collections and their associated documentation, as well as teaching collections regularly used for archaeological classes in several teaching departments. The research collections are employed for faculty and graduate student research, and are accessible to visiting scholars by arrangement. With a clear focus on Michigan’s past, CAR houses key collections from northern Michigan, the Grand River Valley, and the Saginaw River Valley, as well as from a range of intensively investigated individual archaeological sites in some cases as old as 10,000 years but also as recent as the nineteenth century. Results of faculty and student research are disseminated as books, research monographs, book chapters and journal articles.

The Consortium for Archaeological Research is located on East Shaw Lane, in the east wing of McDonel Hall on the campus of Michigan State University.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Compliance

In 1990 the United States Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA; Public Law No. 101-601, 25 U.S.C. §§ 3001-3013). The MSU Museum is in full compliance with the provisions of NAGPRA. As a public repository the Michigan State University Museum provided inventories of affiliated and culturally unidentifiable human remains, associated funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to the NAGPRA office of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., and continues to update this documentation.

We have provided inventories of MSU Museum holdings to all affected Federally Recognized Tribes, and continue to respond to tribal requests for information on both individual objects as well as larger collections. As appropriate, we have published notices in the Federal Register of findings of cultural affiliation, have engaged in consultation with tribes, and on two occasions have repatriated major holdings of human remains and associated funerary objects to culturally affiliated Native American groups.

The MSU Museum will continue to be diligent in our compliance with the spirit and the letter of NAGPRA.

The MSU Museum has designated a NAGPRA Compliance Officer to facilitate such compliance.

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