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Module 2: Clay

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 2 (PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


This week focuses on the most primal material—earth itself, in the form of clay—as used in the deep past, in the Neolithic “Age of Clay,” and contrasts it with materials very much of the present and future: rare earth elements. As different as they may seem, clay and rare earth elements are similar not only as “earthy materials” but in terms of how humans have become inexorably dependent on them, even as these things are dependent on humans.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of clay
  • discover the uses and applications of clay both historically and in modern times
  • identify the properties of rare earth materials
  • discover the uses and applications of rare earth elements in modern times and projecting into the future
  • analyze the entanglements of humans and materials using Hodder’s model
  • differentiate affordances from constraints and potential from actualized properties

Lecture Development Resources

Day 1

Materials science professor gives an overview of clay: History, early uses and applications of clay, physical-chemical properties of clay, and an introduction to rare earths and their properties.

  1. Excerpt (pp. 13-37) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  2. Lecture: Clay Lecture (PPT)
  3. Sample Lecture Video: Clay (14:26) (Transcript)

Day 2

Guest Humanities/Archaeology/Anthroplogy Professor presents The Entanglement of Earth in the Age of Clay, a lecture that examines the human use of clay in Neolithic settlements such as Çatalhöyük and the concept of “entanglement” as a way to understand the interdependencies between humans and things.

  1. e-Textbook Chapter: The Entanglement of Earth in the Age of Clay by Susan Gillespie (PDF)
  2. Video: Earthenware pottery-making skills in Botswana's Kgatleng District (10:00)
  3. Lecture: The Entanglement of Clay at Çatalhöyük Lecture (PPT) by Susan Gillespie
  4. Lecture: Material Properties (PPT) by Susan Gillespie
  5. Assignment: Module 2—Individual Homework Assignment (Word)
  6. Video: Rare Earths (17:16) (Transcript)

Day 3

Humans and things develop interdependencies (entanglements) that trap them and constrain or limit their actions. The entanglement model developed by Ian Hodder is a method for analysis: humans depend on things, things depend on other things, things depend on humans; thus, humans depend on things that depend on other things and on humans. This flipped classroom activity asks students to draw tanglegrams to demonstrate their entanglement with rare earth materials in today’s digital devices.

  1. Lecture: Rare Earths Lecture (PPT)
  2. Video: Global Race for Rare Earths (10:17)
  3. In-Class Activity: Rare Earth Entanglement (Word)
  4. Instructions: How to Make a Tanglegram (PDF) 
  5. Assignment: Module 2—Impact Paradigm Individual Homework Assignment (Word)

Additional Resources

Online Course Module

  • View the online module in Word or PDF format
  • Available soon: The full online course to upload to your Learning Management System. Contact Kevin Jones at or Pamela Hupp at for more information.