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.
photo credit: http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/13925922?printThumbnails=no&action=jp2resize&op=j&imagesize=1200&pvHeight=600&pvWidth=600&n=5&rotation=0&bbx1=0&bby1=0&bbx2=81&bby2=130&jp2Res=0.25&pres=0.125&jp2x=0&jp2y=0&large.x=5&large.y=8