Bread And Butter: Civilization, Toast, and Open Content - Notes for K12OpenEd

4 min read

For the OpenEdK12 conference, I put together a presentation describing how to take an idea for a class, and move from the idea into a full set of openly licensed resources. It builds on some work we have done over the last few years in our open content authoring sessions, supporting communities that are authoring and distributing openly licensed content, and our in-progress work on our open content authoring platform (top secret code name: Sally).

The idea for material we build in the lesson came from my daughter - a while back, she came to me and wanted to make butter, and my immediate reaction was, "No. We need a churn, and we don't have one." Then, of course, my daughter showed me how you can make butter by shaking cream in a jar. The process is easy (once you know that it's possible) - from start to finish, it takes 15 minutes. It's also a great hands-on activity, and it provides a good starting point for talking about food, and the different sources of the food that we encounter on a regular basis.

After thinking about it a bit longer, I realized that butter, or butter variants, work across a range of cultures over time. From clarified butter, to ghee, to kumis, to butter stored in firkins, to the butter we use now - butter has roots in many civilizations, going back to the beginnings of civilization and domestication.

From butter, it's an easy step to bread, and the many breadlike variants based on early domesticated grains that provided the caloric support for people living in these cultures. Given the familiarity of bread and butter in the US, and the ways in which civilizations across the world used grains from domesticated plants and dairy from domesticated livestock across the world, the familiar concept of bread and butter could be used as a doorway to the less familiar concepts covered while learning about the development of civilization.

Once we start looking at the development of agriculture, we have a lens through which to examine the other events that arose in close proximity to agriculture: writing, organized religion, literature, social classes, architecture, food distribution, and the technology required to support these changes. Looking at these general patterns and habits provides countless opportunities for cross-curricular work, as well as providing a framework for studying the development of civilization across cultures and time.

The material covered in the presentation is a starting point; if someone wants to take this concept and adapt this for use in their school or organization, please, take it and run with it.

The presentation covers both the planning process for the material, and information that will be useful when creating any piece of openly licensed content.

Open Content Resources

Early Civilization Resources

  • Useful sites for Mesopotamia and food, stored in Pinboard: The sites saved here include museums with their collections online, as well as some primary source materials translated into English. Definitely not comprehensive, but a good starting point.
  • Wenke, Robert J and Deborah I. Olszewski. Patterns in Prehistory, Fifth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print - This text is a great oveview of human origins and cultural origins.
  • Bottéro, Jean. The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Apr 30, 2011. Print - I have NOT read this book, but if I was going to develop this outline into a course, this would be the next book I would buy. Bottéro translated original cuneiform writings from tablets that I believe are part of the Babylonian Collection at Yale. Unfortunately, Yale doesn't put much of this collection online for public view in any form, and I wasn't able to find any of the translations online either.

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