From Michigan State University’s earliest years, university records have been collected and preserved on an informal basis by esteemed faculty, staff, and former presidents. These individuals felt that the history of the university was important to maintain, even if there was no office officially responsible for that duty. These people were called college historians and included T. C. Abbot, William James Beal, Robert Clarke Kedzie, Frank Kedzie, Madison Kuhn, and Elida Yakely.
In the 1960s, professor William H. Combs became interested in preserving the university’s history. He had 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. During his time at the MSU, Combs developed an abiding interest in preserving the historical records of the university. In 1968, Combs was appointed by the MSU Board of Trustees as the first director of archives.
On November 21, 1969, the board formally established University Archives & Historical Collections (UAHC) with responsibility for collecting and preserving inactive records for all units in the university that have legal, administrative, fiscal, or historical value. The archives also served as a repository for the personal papers of faculty, administrators, and alumni. In the mid-1970s a records management program was added to UAHC to streamline the preservation of university records.
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 land-grant institutions. The program has roots dating back to 1950 when the MSU Museum expanded its acquisition policy to include historical artifacts and manuscript materials relating to rural life.
The Museum established a curatorship of historical artifacts and manuscripts and later established 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 Archives under the title University Archives & Historical Collections, with the provision that the Land-Grant Research program be a part of the Historical Collections.