- Jan 2023
I began by committing the basic error of writing my notes on both sides of the page. I soon learned not to do that, but I continued to copy excerpts into notebooks in the order in which I encountered them.
Kakeibo (Japanese: 家計 簿, Hepburn: kakei-bo), is a Japanese saving method. The word "kakeibo" can be translated as Household ledger and is literally meant for household financial management. Kakeibos vary in structure, but the basic idea is the same. At the beginning of the month, the kakeibo writes down the income and necessary expenses for the beginning month and decides some kind of savings target. The user then records their own expenses on a daily basis, which are added together first at the end of the week and later at the end of the month. At the end of the month, a summary of the month's spending is written in kakeibo. In addition to expenses and income, thoughts and observations are written in kakeibo with the aim of raising awareness of one's own consumption. Kakeibo can be a finished book or self-made.
There are some interesting parallels with kakeibo and note taking methods. Some have used envelopes to save away their notes in a similar sort of structure.
Link to https://hyp.is/RVP-plQaEe2t_7Pt7pyTgA/www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v32/n11/keith-thomas/diary<br /> Historian Keith Thomas used envelopes for storing/maintaining his notes
- Dec 2022
When writing history, there are rules to be followed and evidence to be respected. But no two histories will be the same, whereas the essence of scientific experiments is that they can be endlessly replicated.
A subtle difference here between the (hard) sciences and the humanities. Every human will bring to bear a differently nuanced perspective.
I am a lumper, not a splitter.
Because I am as interested in the attitudes and assumptions which are implicit in the evidence as in those which were explicitly articulated at the time, I have got into the habit of reading against the grain. Whether it is a play or a sermon or a legal treatise, I read it not so much for what the author meant to say as for what the text incidentally or unintentionally reveals.
Historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and surely other researchers must often "read against the grain" which historian Keith Thomas defines as reading a text, not so much for what the author was explicitly trying to directly communicate to the reader, but for the small tidbits that the author through the text "incidentally or unintentionally reveals."
- reading against the grain
- subtle clues
- reading between the lines
- cultural anthropology
- reading practices
- The Two Cultures
- Keith Thomas
- C. P. Snow
- humanities vs. sciences
- Nov 2022
Carlin’s bags of categorized ideas, from the archives of George Carlin
George Carlin kept his slips (miscellaneous scraps of collected paper with notes) sorted by topic name in Ziploc bags (literally that specific brand given the photo's blue/purple signature on the bag locks).
This is similar to others, including historian Keith Thomas, who kept his in labeled envelopes.
- Oct 2022
Thomas, Keith. “Diary: Working Methods.” London Review of Books, June 10, 2010. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v32/n11/keith-thomas/diary.
Historian Keith Thomas talks about his methods of note taking and work as a historian. A method which falls into the tradition of commonplacing and zettelkasten, though his was in note taking and excerpting onto slips which he kept in envelopes instead of notebooks or a card index.
It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written.
As Beatrice Webb rightly said, the very process of shuffling notes can be intellectually fertile.
Keith Thomas indicates that through his personal experience that Beatrice Webb was right in saying that "shuffling notes can be intellectually fertile."
Filing is a tedious activity and bundles of unsorted notes accumulate. Some of them get loose and blow around the house, turning up months later under a carpet or a cushion. A few of my most valued envelopes have disappeared altogether. I strongly suspect that they fell into the large basket at the side of my desk full of the waste paper with which they are only too easily confused.
Relying on cut up slips of paper rather than the standard cards of equal size, Keith Thomas has relayed that his slips often "get loose and blow around the house, turning up months later under a carpet or cushion."
He also suspects that some of his notes have accidentally been thrown away by falling off his desk and into the nearby waste basket which camouflages his notes amongst similar looking trash.
When I go to libraries or archives, I make notes in a continuous form on sheets of paper, entering the page number and abbreviated title of the source opposite each excerpted passage. When I get home, I copy the bibliographical details of the works I have consulted into an alphabeticised index book, so that I can cite them in my footnotes. I then cut up each sheet with a pair of scissors. The resulting fragments are of varying size, depending on the length of the passage transcribed. These sliced-up pieces of paper pile up on the floor. Periodically, I file them away in old envelopes, devoting a separate envelope to each topic. Along with them go newspaper cuttings, lists of relevant books and articles yet to be read, and notes on anything else which might be helpful when it comes to thinking about the topic more analytically. If the notes on a particular topic are especially voluminous, I put them in a box file or a cardboard container or a drawer in a desk. I also keep an index of the topics on which I have an envelope or a file. The envelopes run into thousands.
Historian Keith Thomas describes his note taking method which is similar to older zettelkasten methods, though he uses larger sheets of paper rather than index cards and files them away in topic-based envelopes.
When I did, though, I was reassured to see that, in a slipshod sort of way, I had arrived at something vaguely approximating to their prescriptions. En route I had made all the obvious beginner’s mistakes.
Keith Thomas wasn't taught, nor did he read (until much too late), methods on note taking, but still managed to puzzle out most of the specifics for his note taking practice in his historical work, or at least everything but taking notes on note cards instead of on sheets of paper.
Before the Xerox machine, this was a labour-intensive counsel of perfection; and it is no wonder that many of the great 19th-century historians employed professional copyists.
According to Keith Thomas, "many of the great 19th-century historians employed professional copyists" as a means of keeping up with filing copies of their note slips under multiple subject headings.
But historians still make newspaper cuttings. At breakfast, I often take a pair of scissors to the LRB, the TLS or the New York Review of Books.
HIstorian Keith Thomas indicated in 2010 that he still regularly took scissors to his newspapers and magazines to excerpt material from them.
- note collection loss and damage
- note taking transmission
- cards of equal size
- writing advice
- Keith Thomas' zettelkasten
- note taking advice
- combinatorial creativity
- Beatrice Webb
- index card based commonplace books
- note taking methods
- ars excerpendi
- Keith Thomas
- note taking
Les murs du cabinet de travail, le plancher, le plafond même portaient des liasses débordantes, des cartons démesurément gonflés, des boîtes où se pressait une multitude innombrable de fiches, et je contemplai avec une admiration mêlée de terreur les cataractes de l'érudition prêtes à se rompre. —Maître, fis-je d'une voix émue, j'ai recours à votre bonté et à votre savoir, tous deux inépuisables. Ne consentiriez-vous pas à me guider dans mes recherches ardues sur les origines de l'art pingouin? —Monsieur, me répondit le maître, je possède tout l'art, vous m'entendez, tout l'art sur fiches classées alphabétiquement et par ordre de matières. Je me fais un devoir de mettre à votre disposition ce qui s'y rapporte aux Pingouins. Montez à cette échelle et tirez cette boîte que vous voyez là-haut. Vous y trouverez tout ce dont vous avez besoin. J'obéis en tremblant. Mais à peine avais-je ouvert la fatale boîte que des fiches bleues s'en échappèrent et, glissant entre mes doigts, commencèrent à pleuvoir. Presque aussitôt, par sympathie, les boîtes voisines s'ouvrirent et il en coula des ruisseaux de fiches roses, vertes et blanches, et de proche en proche, de toutes les boîtes les fiches diversement colorées se répandirent en murmurant comme, en avril, les cascades sur le flanc des montagnes. En une minute elles couvrirent le plancher d'une couche épaisse de papier. Jaillissant de leurs inépuisables réservoirs avec un mugissement sans cesse grossi, elles précipitaient de seconde en seconde leur chute torrentielle. Baigné jusqu'aux genoux, Fulgence Tapir, d'un nez attentif, observait le cataclysme; il en reconnut la cause et pâlit d'épouvante. —Que d'art! s'écria-t-il. Je l'appelai, je me penchai pour l'aider à gravir l'échelle qui pliait sous l'averse. Il était trop tard. Maintenant, accablé, désespéré, lamentable, ayant perdu sa calotte de velours et ses lunettes d'or, il opposait en vain ses bras courts au flot qui lui montait jusqu'aux aisselles. Soudain une trombe effroyable de fiches s'éleva, l'enveloppant d'un tourbillon gigantesque. Je vis durant l'espace d'une seconde dans le gouffre le crâne poli du savant et ses petites mains grasses, puis l'abîme se referma, et le déluge se répandit sur le silence et l'immobilité. Menacé moi-même d'être englouti avec mon échelle, je m'enfuis à travers le plus haut carreau de la croisée.
France, Anatole. L’Île Des Pingouins. Project Gutenberg 8524. 1908. Reprint, Project Gutenberg, 2005. https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8524/pg8524.html
Death by Zettelkasten!!
(Coming soon to a theater near you...)
In the preface to the novel Penguin Island (L'Île des Pingouins. Calmann-Lévy, 1908) by Nobel prize laureate Anatole France, a scholar is drowned by an avalanche of index cards which formed a gigantic whirlpool streaming out of his card index (Zettelkasten).
Link to: Historian Keith Thomas has indicated that he finds it hard to take using index cards for excerpting and research seriously as a result of reading this passage in the satire Penguin Island.<br /> https://hypothes.is/a/rKAvtlQCEe2jtzP3LmPlsA
Translation via: France, Anatole. Penguin Island. Translated by Arthur William Evans. 8th ed. 1908. Reprint, New York, NY, USA: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1922. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Penguin_Island/6UpWAvkPQaEC?hl=en&gbpv=0
Small changes in the translation by me, comprising only adding the word "index" in front of the occurrences of card to better represent the historical idea of fiches used by scholars in the late 1800s and early 1900s, are indicated in brackets.
The walls of the study, the floor, and even the ceiling were loaded with overflowing bundles, paste board boxes swollen beyond measure, boxes in which were compressed an innumerable multitude of small [index] cards covered with writing. I beheld in admiration mingled with terror the cataracts of erudition that threatened to burst forth.
“Master,” said I in feeling tones, “I throw myself upon your kindness and your knowledge, both of which are inexhaustible. Would you consent to guide me in my arduous researches into the origins of Penguin art?"
“Sir," answered the Master, “I possess all art, you understand me, all art, on [index] cards classed alphabetically and in order of subjects. I consider it my duty to place at your disposal all that relates to the Penguins. Get on that ladder and take out that box you see above. You will find in it everything you require.”
I tremblingly obeyed. But scarcely had I opened the fatal box than some blue [index] cards escaped from it, and slipping through my fingers, began to rain down.
Almost immediately, acting in sympathy, the neighbouring boxes opened, and there flowed streams of pink, green, and white [index] cards, and by degrees, from all the boxes, differently coloured [index] cards were poured out murmuring like a waterfall on a mountain-side in April. In a minute they covered the floor with a thick layer of paper. Issuing from their in exhaustible reservoirs with a roar that continually grew in force, each second increased the vehemence of their torrential fall. Swamped up to the knees in cards, Fulgence Tapir observed the cataclysm with attentive nose. He recognised its cause and grew pale with fright.
“ What a mass of art! ” he exclaimed.
I called to him and leaned forward to help him mount the ladder which bent under the shower. It was too late. Overwhelmed, desperate, pitiable, his velvet smoking-cap and his gold-mounted spectacles having fallen from him, he vainly opposed his short arms to the flood which had now mounted to his arm-pits . Suddenly a terrible spurt of [index] cards arose and enveloped him in a gigantic whirlpool. During the space of a second I could see in the gulf the shining skull and little fat hands of the scholar; then it closed up and the deluge kept on pouring over what was silence and immobility. In dread lest I in my turn should be swallowed up ladder and all I made my escape through the topmost pane of the window.