Not many people have the urge to make edible treats about their academic work.
But for Katie Blanchard, Keeper of Near Eastern Collections of the Penn Museum, extensive work in preserving ancient Mesopotamian Cuneiform writing from ancient Mesopotamia made creating delicious desserts feel natural.
“I was home making gingerbread cookies one year and realized that they looked like very close to something that I was working with [Cuneiform tablets],” Blanchard said.
Pieces of gingerbread quickly turned into cookies with Cuneiform writing, and impressed many of Blanchard’s coworkers at the annual holiday party that year. The idea was transformed into an annual tradition.
From there, a blog post from the Penn Museum that included Blanchard’s recipe with corresponding pictures made a holiday hit into an internet phenomenon.
The post has since been viewed more than one thousand times.
“Mine will probably taste more like the Dead Sea scrolls,” posted one visitor.
The trend of Cuneiform cookies falls in line with the museum's efforts to become more receptive to a changing audience.
Since the 1980s, museums around the country have attempted to change the perception that museums are boring.
To combat decreased membership, museums evolved to accommodate the interests of a new generation of learners.
“Other sites, such as the Penn Museum, focused on the ways that learning can occur, and established themselves as a site of “informal learning”, said Veronica Alpenc, a professor in the Graduate School of Education who has additional interest in museum history and education.
The Penn Museum aims to engage its visitors, through programs like the “Write Your Name in Cuneiform” website.
“[The “Write Your Name in Cuneiform”] was of the first websites but still one of the most popular,” Blanchard said.
Before Blanchard’s Cuneiform creations, students from schools in the area could participate in their own Cuneiform creation activities, which according to Blanchard, were not too different from the writing practice students participated in ancient schools.
“People are attracted to what resonates with them,” Blanchard said.