Austin Peay State University Honors Students to Create Clay Tablets for Book Class History

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, Tennessee – To give students in her honors course a memorable hands-on experience related to the content students study in the classroom, Gina Garber, professor of library administration at Austin Peay State University (APSU), recently led an exercise in active learning on a wedge-shaped clay tablet. The event took place on September 9 in the Hall of Honors.

This fall, Garber walks students through the nearly 5,000-year history of the book, from clay and stone tablets and the invention of paper to the recent invention of the e-book.

“Once students learn about the history of the book and how writing has changed the world, it will give them the opportunity to think critically about the current challenges of new technologies, such as the issues of the digital divide. and readily available self-publications. works, ”Garber said.

The class provides materials to immerse students in the book-making processes of the past, including papyrus, rice paper, calligraphy pens, gold leaf, linotype tools and blocks, Sumi ink and clay.

This September morning, Garber had students write using Sumerian pictographic writing on soft clay with reed-like wooden tools that people in ancient Mesopotamia used in 3000 BCE. Garber intends to make the event a memorable one that students can remember when they see Sumerians writing on tablets later in life. She teaches her class the importance of kinesthetic or practical learning.

 Cuneiform writing on clay. (APSU)
Cuneiform writing on clay. (APSU)

“I think kinesthetic learning is effective for this class because the students can actually get their hands on the material,” Garber said. “It is one thing to read on the clay tablets, but I think writing on the tablets using the tools that the people of ancient Mesopotamia used is an important learning experience for the students.”

The students began the process by using a tight string to cut their tablet out of a clay slab. Students try to keep their slabs only half an inch thick or slightly thinner to fit them into the special oven in which they are to be baked. Then, using a sheet of Sumerian pictograms, students write their name and a sentence on the clay in a cuneiform shape. scenario.

“I’m making impressions on this clay,” student Gabriel Rodriguez said. “I have two tools here. We are cut at an angle to make these triangular shapes. Then I have a really sharp stylus to draw the lines. That’s all cuneiform writing is, just triangles and lines.

Garber conducted his exercise with clay from River City Clay, a downtown art studio. Garber returned the tablets to River City to set them on fire in the oven so the students could take their work home.

This is just one of many years to come this semester. In the future, Garber will be running more exercises related to Literature and Book Creation content that she covers in class. She ends each week with an active learning exercise, hoping the activity provides students with a therapeutic break from the more ordinary aspects of learning and student life.

“Foundations of Interdisciplinary Thinking: Book History and the Evolution of Information” is an interactive course focusing on historical developments in written communication, from clay tablets to today’s digital media.

For more information, visit www.apsu.edu/honors/.


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