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Module 5: Gold and Silver

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 5 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


Humans give value to materials in many different socially-informed ways. This module examines the creation of currency systems based on gold and silver, and uses these lessons to explore how we perceive the use of gold nanoparticles in medicine today. Finding new uses for materials may depend upon the value that we give to them in other circumstances. How might we give new forms of value to precious metals that change how we think about their utility and value in our society? (And how have new processing techniques altered how we understand the most valuable properties of these materials?)

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of gold and silver
  • discover the uses and applications of gold and silver both historically and in modern times
  • identify the properties of nanomaterials
  • discover the uses and applications of nanomaterials in modern times and projecting into the future
  • analyze the intrinsic and perceived value of materials
  • distinguish exchange from trade and identify the main elements of the theory of exchange

Lecture Development Resources
Day 1

Materials science professor gives an overview of gold and silver: properties, abundance, structure and location; manipulation, malleability, and the history of gold and silver; native vs. smelted, impurities, Roman amalgamation, liquation; Irish gold and the Gold Rush of 1848.

  1. Excerpt (pp. 68-81) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  2. Lecture: Gold and Silver (PPT)
  3. Sample Lecture Video: Gold and Silver (22:18) ( Transcript)
Classroom Demo: Show gold nanoparticles in solution and perhaps manipulate a gold bead into a sheet through hammering.

Day 2

Guest humanities/archaeology/classics/history professor presents Gold, Silver and the Creation of Value. This lecture looks at the invention of coinage systems as currency, as compared to other forms of exchange, and uses the example of the coin to present the difference between the intrinsic value of a material, and its extrinsic value as attributed by a political or other social system.

  1. e-Textbook Chapter: Gold and Silver: Precious Metals and Coinage (PDF) by Florin Curta
  2. Check for Understanding: Module 5 – Textbook Questions 2017 (Word)
  3. Lecture: Precious Metals and Coinage Lecture (PPT) by Florin Curta
  4. Assignment: Module 5 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
  5. Video: Gold (8:25) ( Transcript)
  6. Check for Understanding: Module 5 – Video Questions 2017 (Word)

Day 3

Value is a social concept that is assigned to a material based on many factors. Materials have intrinsic physical properties, only some of which are selected as more relevant by a society in meeting social needs based on cultural perspectives. In this flipped classroom, we ask students to discover whether or not the new use of gold in nanoparticle cancer treatments, as well as other new applications, is likely to change the price of gold on the open market. We also ask students to discuss how the perceived value of gold as shaped by its past uses in coinage and ornamentation might affect our willingness to accept its new applications. 

  1. In-class Activity: Gold and Silver (Word)
  2. 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.