student note 7: CPB entries vs. weekly blog posts

Whereas students reading a memoir / (auto)biography publish weekly blog posts, people making a Commonplace Book (CPB) make regular entries in their CPB.

For models of such entries, see my CPB purplemarblemajesty.  Notice that the typical entry is shorter than the biography weekly posts.  For your CPB project, it is more important to write regular entries than to write long ones.  In your entries, write enough to be clear, specific and developed, but write in such a way and at such a length that you can maintain the habit of writing an entry every other day.  On the “off” days, you can comb your books for passages to be included in the next entry.

On Fridays, I will look to see how you are progressing with this schedule of an entry every other day.  As always, especially since this is the pilot year for CPBs, ask when you need to.

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student notes 6: How many entries?

How many entries?  My current thought on this question is one published entry every other day, which gives you the intervening days to locate a passage and consider your thoughts about it.  If we start counting from April 1, with that day being a search-and-consider day,  this means you have written two entries by today (Tue Apr 5) and are thinking about the third (to be published tomorrow, Wed Apr 6).  Remember to review my commonplace book purplemarblemajesty for sample reflections on chosen passages.  The reflections written in blue font show recommended depth and length.

Remember the essential differences between a blog’s posts on the one hand, and its pages on the other.  Also, remember that organization is a basic function of the commonplace book.  It’s one thing to find passages that mean something to you.  A extra layer of meaning emerges, once you organize the collection that is accumulating.

In my (evolving, developing) commonplace book, I use pages as the primary organizational tool.  You may want to do this, or use posts.  If pots is your preferred tool, you can create tags or categories to organize the posts.  Somewhere on your blog, you want to indicate how people navigate the organizational structure, the design of the book.

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student notes 5: use wordpress platform

In this pilot project with the Senior Commonplace Book, I ask that everyone use WordPress as the platform.  Over the years I have found this a functional and free vehicle for expression.  It offers a wide range of design options, at no cost.  Wordpress also allows different privacy settings.  I ask that all commonplace books for this project be open to the public, as is this one that you are now reading.  Keep this transparency in mind, as you publish your selections and reflections.  Please talk to me, if you have questions about this platform expectations.

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student notes 4: visual images

Inserting visual images can enhance a commonplace book, but I would be careful to use them in a supporting role.  I would like this book to focus on writing–both the written passages you include and the reflections you yourself write.  When occasional images help you make a connection or engage a reader, consider them.  Remember, though, to honor the tradition by aiming your “pen” at words.  To phrase this note differently, no one should feel sheepish about a commonplace book that has no visual images.  Let your words make pictures.

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student notes 3: web of connections

Hyperlinks can animate digital documents.

This particular commonplace book is a digital document.

Therefore, you complete this syllogism.


The digital age gives us new tools, many of which provide connections among ideas and people.   Inserting links, judiciously, might help you form a web of connections that are meaningful to you.  When you construct significant meaning, the chances increase that you have unlocked insights for your readers.



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student notes 2: appending reflections

One way to update the commonplace tradition, and adapt it to our particular use in this class, is to attach reflections to each, or to most, of the passages recorded.

As I build out this my commonplace book, watch for reflections.  The ones in blue font* are meant as models.  They are models mostly in terms of approximate length and depth. If you don’t see blue font, I may still be working on that particular reflection.

*For example in sections D, G, and I (as of 16Mar16).

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student notes 1: purpose and perspective

These “student notes” are meant for seniors choosing the commonplace book as their final project.  Originally, I intended this site for personal use only.  Now that some seniors are making a commonplace book of their own, I am adding these notes, and other layers, to guide their work.  I am still collecting passages meaningful to me.  At the same time, though, I am including extra elements meant to help these student writers.

Thorstein Veblen wrote numerous books about economics and related subjects.  Among the more famous of his works is The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). He challenged orthodox economic thinking. For instance, he advocated economics as an evolutionary science.  He argued that this realm of study needed to evolve with the growth of human societies.

The practice of commonplace books has existed for a long time.  It remains a valuable practice, but, as Veblen’s work suggests, it needs updating.  Therefore, this and subsequent “student notes” describe how students choosing this project should consider designing and building their commonplace books.  A Harvard University collection of commonplace books states, “The manuscript commonplace books in this collection demonstrate varying degrees and diverse methods of organization, reflecting the idiosyncratic interests and practices of individual readers.”  It makes sense for today’s students to organize and construct commonplace books that reflect their individual interests and practices as readers.

As a next step–before reading other “student notes”–turn to the page called “This is a Commonplace Book” for background about this tradition.  This information reveals that early commonplace books were primarily instruments of memorization.  People recorded passages that they wanted to commit to memory.  The commonplace was a tool towards this end.  In our age, we can adapt the tradition, update it, to make most valuable use of it.  Remember, also, that we are doing this in a conventional academic setting–i.e., a formal school setting, with multiple classes and classrooms.  Since ours is just one of these classes, and we need to strike a balance by being productive and pragmatic.  We need to mix enthusiasm with realism.  The nature of a commonplace book can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed.  I hope that some of you find this project valuable enough that you want to keep it and add to it, after you leave this school.  Have fun and keep a perspective on the nature of this kind of work.  Most people who have kept commonplace books in the past have done so over a number of years.  Remember our time frame for this project.

J Locke commonplace.1706

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