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Module 3: Ceramics and Glass

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 3 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


The manipulation of glass-like rocks and ceramics represent humans' earliest materials innovations. Matter/materials come bundled with many properties, but we only seek to use some of these at particular instances in history. This module examines the process and social impacts of shaping rock and clay, and uses these lessons to explore the possibilities for manipulating tomorrow's functional ceramics. The creation of new processing approaches suggests which properties of materials we can take advantage of in a certain time and place.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of ceramics
  • describe the work of materials processing
  • discover the uses and applications of ceramics both historically and in modern times
  • examine how the physical processing of a material involves social acts
  • discover the hidden costs of increasing materials manufacturing

Lecture Development Resources
Day 1

Materials science professor gives an overview of ceramics and glass: Properties, abundance, and structure of ceramics and glass; history of the use of ceramics and glass and how these materials have evolved.

  1. Excerpt (pp. 98-123) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  2. Lecture: Ceramics and Glass (PPT)
  3. Sample Lecture Video: Ceramics and Glasses (21:59) ( Transcript)
  4. Demo Video: Rupert Drop Experiment (6:38)

Day 2

Guest humanities/archaeology/anthropology professor presents Firing Clay, Breaking Glass and the Past Futures of Ceramics, a lecture that explores early human manipulations of obsidian and firing clay and introduces the concept of “operational sequence” as a way to understand the complex social acts involved in manipulating materials.

  1. e-Textbook Chapter: Firing Clay, Breaking Glass and the Past Futures of Ceramics (PDF) by Kenneth Sassaman
  2. Check for Understanding: Module 3 – Textbook Questions-2017 (Word)
  3. Video: Flintknapping with Bruce Bradley (45 minutes)
  4. Lecture: Ancestral Glass (PPT) by Kenneth Sassaman
  5. Assignment: Module 3 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
  6. Video: Ceramics (9:44) ( Transcript)
  7. Check for Understanding: Module 3 – Video Questions-2017

Day 3

The decisions that we make about how to manipulate materials involve making choices about energy transformation, expected use, and recyclability. This flipped classroom exercise asks students to imagine the operational sequence for functional ceramics in order to discuss the advantages and opportunity costs involved in the processing of these materials.

  1. Lecture: Ceramics (PPT)
  2. Video: Fuel from the Air: Sossina Haile at TEDx Bermuda (14:52)
  3. In-class Activity: Operational Sequences and Functional Ceramics (Word)
  4. Assignment: 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.



      • Whitaker, John C. Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Print.