- Jul 2022
THE ART OF NOTE-TAKING
Beatrice Webb's suggestions: - Use sheets of paper and not notebooks, specifically so one can re-arrange, shuffle, and resort one's notes - She uses quarto pages as most convenient (quarto sizes have varied over time, but presumably hers were in the range of 8.5 x 11" sheets of paper, and thus rather large compared to index cards
It takes some careful attention, but her description of her method and how she used it in a pre-computer era is highly indicative of the fact that Beatrice Webb was actively creating a paper database system which she could then later query to compile data to either elicit insight or to prove answers to particular questions.
She specifically advises that one keep one and only one sort of particular types of data on each card whether that be dates, locations, subjects, or categories of facts. This is directly equivalent to the modern database design of only keeping one value in a particular field. As a result, each sheet within her notes might be equivalent to a row of related data which might contain a variety of different types of individual data. By not mixing data on individual sheets one can sort and resort their tables and effectively search through them without confusing data types.
Her work and examples here would have been in the period of 1890 and 1910 (she specifically cites that this method was used for her research on the "principles of 1834" which was subsequently published as English Poor Law Policy in 1910) at a time after Basile Bouchon and Joseph Marie Jacquard and contemporaneously with Herman Hollerith who were using punched cards for some of this sort of work.