MSU is a campus like no other. Each of its features is woven together into a living history of what it means to be a Spartan. Although change is evident every day as Spartans advance knowledge and transform lives, the MSU campus remains a living laboratory and museum that shows you where we come from, where we are, and where we are going.

As a Spartan, you join a long-standing tradition of excellence in teaching, innovation and service to the community. In teaching, MSU makes a quality undergraduate education a top priority. In innovation, we are recognized as a preeminent research university. In service, MSU has a long legacy of addressing the needs of the community.

On February 15, 1855, just 18 years after Michigan became a state, Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed legislation establishing the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan -- the forerunner of MSU.  Carved out of 676 acres of woodlands less than four miles east of the state's capitol, the college formally opened on May 13, 1857 with five faculty members and 63 students.

Michigan’s fledgling agricultural college served as the prototype for the nation’s “land-grant” institutions created under the Morrill Act sponsored by Justin Morrill, a representative who went on to be a senator, from Vermont.

With eyes on Michigan, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act of 1862, which funded higher education institutions by granting federally controlled land to states for development or sale to raise funds to establish and endow “land-grant” colleges.

Prior to the Morrill Act, Michigan State was chartered under Michigan state law as a state land-grant institution, receiving an appropriation of 14,000 acres of state-owned land to fund its creation. Michigan State was subsequently designated as the federal land-grant college for Michigan in 1863.

Like all land-grant institutions established under the Morrill Act’s “grand experiment” in higher education, Michigan State faced a formidable mission:

  • to democratize higher education and expand its opportunities based on merit, not social class
  • to find practical applications for scientific research and technological innovations
  • to make public service an essential part of higher education’s mandate

The Campus Archaeology Program connects past to present, bringing the University's history to life through excavations of its oldest buildings and uncovering patterns that illustrate the lives of early Spartans. Here, Campus Archaeologists describe two major discoveries of MSU's past on campus in the Fall 2009.

Want to learn more about MSU's rich history? Visit the University Archives & Historical Collections and the Campus Archaeology Program.

Photographs courtesy of University Archives & Historical Collections and MSU Communications & Brand Strategy.