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IMOS Writing Materials

Module 10: Writing Materials

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 10 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


The ways that we store and distribute information are not neutral, but have social, cultural, and political implications for the societies in which these materials operate. This module examines the wide variety of materials that have been used for information storage and dissemination, and uses lessons learned to predict the potential and pitfalls of new magnetic storage materials. The degradation of different materials for information storage can have a profound impact upon political, cultural, and economic development of any society, since it affects access to crucial information and influences what information is recorded, shared, and preserved.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of different writing materials, including stone, papyrus, parchment, and paper
  • identify the properties of magnetic materials
  • discover the uses and applications of writing materials both historically and in modern times
  • examine the political dimensions of information storage
  • discover how different technologies for information storage shape how we use and access information, as well as how we manipulate new writing materials

Lecture Development Resources

Day 1

Material science professor gives an overview of writing materials from clay through paper. This includes the processing that was required to convert the media from raw material to a final useful product. The chemistry of processing of paper including the chemistry and separation of cellulose from lignin is discussed. Finally the concept of magnetic storage is presented.

  1. Excerpt (pp.134-146) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  2. Lecture: Writing Materials (PPT)
  3. Sample Lecture Video: Writing Materials (15:54) ( Transcript)

Day 2

Guest history/classics professor presents The Politics and Preservation of Knowledge, a lecture that gives an overview of the history of the book. By relating the materials used to record and preserve knowledge to the accessibility of this knowledge to readers, this lecture demonstrates that selecting a material to record information is a political act that affects who in a society has access to knowledge and whose knowledge is important enough to preserve and transmit to others. This lecture also demonstrates that a materials innovation does not immediately replace other materials used for a particular purpose; rather, several materials may co-exist side by side based on social needs and values.

  1. e-Textbook Chapter: Politics of Knowledge (PDF) by Bonnie Effros
  2. Video: Chancery Papermaking  ( 11:42)  
  3. Lecture: Writing Materials (PPT) by Bonnie Effros
  4. Lecture (Alt): Writing Materials (PPT) by Elizabeth Haven Hawley
  5. Check for Understanding: Module 10 – Textbook Questions 2017 (Word)
  6. Assignment: Module 10 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
  7. Video: Information Storage Systems (11:33) ( Transcript)
  8. Check for Understanding: Module 10 – Video Questions 2017 (Word)

Day 3

Innovations in materials often change the lives of communities in anticipated and unanticipated fashions. Who has access to writing materials, and how long the information recorded in writing materials lasts, can have profound impacts upon social equality. In this flipped classroom activity, students are asked to examine new innovations in magnetic storage, enabling us to record far more than ever before. What information will we use this material to store, who will have access to this information, and how will information storage on a massive scale affect our communities and political regimes?

  1. In-Class Activity: Information Storage (Word)
  2. Assignment: Module 10–Impact Paradigm Individual Homework Assignment (Word)

Additional Resources

Online Course Module

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

Articles and Books

  • Chartier, Roger “Representations of the Written Word”. In Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1995) 6-24. Print.
  • Loveday, Helen “Papermaking in the Islamic World” Islamic Paper: A Study of the Ancient Craft. Archetype Publications (2001) 17-28. Print.
  • Rothenberg, Jeff “ Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information”.  (1999) 
  • Stournara, Maria E. “ Rewritable Paper from Functional Materials and Systems”. (2018)

Online Images

  • Papyrus Scroll (Egyptian Antiquity). Book of the Dead of the Goldworker of Amun, Sobekmose. Saqqara, Egypt. New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, prob. reign of Thutmose III to reign of Amunhotep II (circa 1479–1400 B.C.E.), Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.
  • Paper Scroll (China, Tang Dynasty). Sutra on the Buddha’s Liberation, Mahaparinirvana, Book 4, Chapter 7-8. Undyed paper, Sinkiang, China, ca. 625-650 CE. Schoyen Collection MS 2152 – Oslo and London.
  • Handwritten Parchment Codex. (Medieval Europe) Prayer Book of Claude de France (c. 1517), Queen of France. Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.1166, New York.
  • Paper Printed Book (Early Modern Europe). Biblia Latina, Mainz: Johann Gutenberg & Johann Fust, ca. 1455. Pierpont Morgan Library ms. 12, New York.