Part I: The stylus
Jordan A. Student
COM 230 History of Mass Media
THE CUNEIFORM STYLUS: TOWARD UNIFORMITY IN WRITING
The Sumerians may be the first civilization to develop a logographic writing system capable of representing complex narrative (Smith, 1972, p. 24). The system did not lack for terms of expression in any way, and their stories were as intricate and lively as any written today. The only thing the system lacked was convenient writing surfaces, forcing the users to write on soft clay tablets and then bake them into a hard, if brittle, surface (p. 40). The Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest existing story in recorded history, dates from c. 2000 BCE and was recorded on 12 clay tablets in the style of writing which came to be called
“Cuneiform,” Latin for “wedged shaped” (Parker, 2001, p. 45). What produced the wedges on the clay was a wooden stylus, something like a small chopstick, with a point in the shape of an elongated triangle. This was the cuneiform stylus.
Using a stylus with one shape produces very uniform markings. Where other systems may have varied from writer to writer and within texts, the cuneiform document is a neat, uniform system. There would be no variation from one character to the next. The writer would press… [this goes on for 1 ½ to 2 pages, describing the
use of the stylus and the tablets]
Part II: Uniformity and writing culture
When considering media change, one of the aspects of interest to us is how new media carry with them the idea of a benefit. Before the cuneiform stylus was invented, scribes presumably would write in the logographic equivalent of their own particular “handwriting.” There is a great deal of variation evident in the script of Egyptian scribes and a great deal of variation in Greek and other later writing styles.
In a way, we can think of the stylus as a stamp. The stamp not only insists on uniformity, it makes a virtue of it, since it produces writing which is easier to read than the usual variations of different scribes. Once entrenched, variations would become sub-standard and inadequate, which may explain why the clay tablet persisted for as long as it did. [this goes on for 1 ½ to 2 pages, speculating on the social effects of uniform
J. Student 2
writing] People might prefer this style to others, and this preference, coupled with the weight of tradition, might create a longing for uniformity in other spheres of life.
In this paragraph there are some instructions concerning APA style. The citations above in Part I are in parenthesis and in this order: Author’s last name, year, page number, like this (Berger, 1990, p. 98). If I refer this author again, without any intervening citation, I omit the name and year, like this (p. 124). If I mention another author in between, like this (Winston, 2002, p. 80) then I put the name back in, without the year, like this (Berger, p. 67). It’s really quite intuitive once you get used to it. The year is stated once only, the first time. The name is stated only if it’s needed to be clear which author you’re talking about. Helpful website: http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/apa and many others.
In terms of layout, double space everything except the heading, leave a one inch margin all around the page, number the pages (numbering the first page is optional) and use an acceptable font. Acceptable fonts are
“Times” types in 10 or 11 points only, or sans serif fonts (like Ariel) in 10 point only. Do not use weird fonts, big fonts, bold print, or any different sizes. That is, everything on the paper should be in the same font in the same size. Do not skip lines between paragraphs. After the last line of your paper, place your references (remember, in
APA style they are called “references,” not “bibliography” or “works cited”). Use a “hanging indent” as shown; you can single space this section with a space in between or double space with no extra space in between, whichever you like.
Berger, E. (1990). Habits of mind: Writing systems and social equality through the ages. Elizabeth, N.J.: Erhardt
Parker, L. (2001). Cuneiform writing and the traditions of epic storytelling. Boston: University of Massachusetts
Smith, R. (1971). The Sumerians: Their influence from the fertile crescent to the land of the pharos. New York:
Winston, R.A. (2002). Writing the ages of life. New York: McGraw-Hill.