What’s a commonplace book?Posted: June 23, 2011
Although nobody has asked me this question about my blog subtitle yet, I feel somewhat compelled to mention it.
I first learned about commonplace books in my Honors Composition class during my freshman year in college. Though I can’t remember the exact definition, the concept has stuck with me over the years. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a definition that best matches my interpretation. A commonplace book is
a manuscript or typed volume kept by an individual containing literary passages, quotations, recipes, poems, or passages from other sources that the individual thought worthy of recording. These tend to be highly eclectic, may or may not include commentary by the individual, and may or may not be on a common theme.
The commonplace book I kept for my class contained a mix of quotations, comic strips, advertisements, poems, and other assorted clippings of interest. I’m not sure it would photograph well, so I’ll just share one quotation that’s particularly applicable to our cpd23 efforts.
“All,” be they dull or bright, more or less able, be their will powerful or weak, become blameworthy if they refuse to advance in learning. -Ivan Illich, In The Vineyard Of The Text
I really appreciate little tidbits of information like this, and it was fun to have a place to collect them. I continued to add to my commonplace book for at least a couple of years after the class. In many ways, I would say I haven’t really stopped keeping a commonplace book — it has just gone digital. Unfortunately, though, much of the content has been spread out among multiple tools. Sometimes I just use browser bookmarks, or I might share a fun quotation via Facebook or Twitter. The closest digital reproduction might be my Evernote “commonplace book” notebook, as it allows me to scroll through the entries (and search them = bonus!).
It seems to me that blogs can also serve as a type of commonplace book. Actually, if I remember correctly, one of the purposes of keeping a commonplace book is to inspire future writing. I have never really done that with any of my clippings thus far, but it seems there’s no time like the present.
Do any of you keep commonplace books? What do you think of the idea?