Welcome to my Commonplace Book. People started keeping Commonplace books in Italy in the 15th century and they became very popular in the English speaking world in the 19th century. People used their Commonplace books to record key ideas from lectures they attended or books they read. “Devotional, technical, documentary and literary texts appear side-by-side in no discernible order,” according to Wikipedia. In other words, Commonplace books are an early handwritten version of blogs.
By the 17th century, students at Oxford were encouraged to keep Commonplace books as a popular study technique. They were also widely used by writers and scientists. Francis Bacon, John Locke, John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Hardy and Mark Twain all kept Commonplace books.
Virginia Woolf described Commonplace books as follows:
[L]et us take down one of those old notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing. Here we have written down the names of great writers in their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a dash of red ink.
For my own Commonplace book here, I will be posting interesting factoids relating to my interests in digital pedagogy, computers, photography, etc. as well as political cartoons (my leanings are progressive).
- Much of the info about the history of Commonplace books was gleaned from Wikipedia which has links to published Commonplace books.
- Virginia Woolf, “Hours in a Library,” Granite and Rainbow: Essays by Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958), p. 25.