My Notebooks

Notebook 1

I jotted down these notes in my notebook before the opening lecture of the 2017 Gilder-Lehrman Institute Princeton Seminar on Colonial America

I take a spiral notebook and a pen with me everywhere I go.  I use it to jot down ideas. There is no rhyme or reason to what I write. When I fill one notebook I start writing in another one.  I know I should probably take such notes on my computer, but I prefer to write them out.

Here are some of the entries in my current notebook:

  • “Thoughts on ‘Bible Cause’ session at AAR”
  • “Notes on Battle Lines: Questions for Jonathan Fetter-Vorm”
  • “Presbyterian presidents” (Sunday School class at Derry Presbyterian Church)
  • “Thoughts on evangelicals, Trump, and abortion”
  • “Notes on Springsteen, Born to Run
  • “Stuff at New Jersey Archives”
  • “Notes on podcast meeting”
  • “Notes on David Smith lecture: “Charity, Humility, and Justice: Learning to Read and Inviting Virtue”
  • “Pennsylvania history assignment: Digital Harrisburg”
  • “Conversation on Race”
  • “Summer 2017: Free weeks”

My notebook writing sounds similar to what Jessica Parr describes in her recent piece at The Junto: “The Research Notebook.”

Here is a taste:

We all have been there: or, at least many of us have. That is, the experience of having a writing brainstorm at an inopportune time. It may disrupt our sleep at 3 am, appear in the middle of office hours, or make itself known as the latest crisis is unfolding on Queen Sugar: often as a partially digested kernel of an idea. Much as writer’s block inevitably comes when we have All. The. Deadlines, that nugget of brilliance does puckishly seem inclined to appear when we are not in an immediate position to write. It has the potential to make a work-in-progress so much better, but its evanescent nature means it may not stick around until we are back in front of our computer. So what’s a scholar to do when they have a stroke of genius and don’t have a block of writing time immediately available?

Read the rest here.

Notebook 2

My current notebook

Tracy McKenzie on Mark Edmundson and Commonplace Books

I continue to enjoy Tracy McKenzie‘s reflections on faith and the practice of history at his blog “Faith and History.”  In his latest post, the chair of the history department at Wheaton College (IL) describes his engagement with Mark Edmundson’s book Why Teach: In Defense of a Real Education.  

McKenzie spends most of the post discussing Edmundson’s thoughts about the practice of writing in a commonplace book. Here is a taste:

My favorite passage from the book is actually one that articulates, better than I have been able to on my own, the value of keeping a commonplace book.  In a previous post (see here), I explained how writing in my commonplace book “helps me, imaginatively, to think of myself as entering into a grand conversation about enduring questions, something far bigger than the transient fads and obsessions that so easily steal the best days of our lives.”
Edmundson tells of a friend who has kept a journal for more than forty years and refers to it as a “life thickener.”  The observations, reflections, and questions that his friend records, in Edmundson’s words, collectively “give dense meaning to the blind onrush that unexamined life can be.”  What a marvelous sentence.  I found myself saying “Yes!  That’s exactly what I long for.”
Edmundson goes on to explain how it is that contemporary culture works against this kind of goal.  There are surely many factors, but a chief culprit, he believes, is technological.  The students he meets at the University of Virginia are children of the Internet.  It was born in their infancy, and they can never remember a time when the word “chat” referred primarily to face-to-face conversation.  Technology allows them (and us) to be multiple places at once–watching a U-tube video, checking Facebook, answering e-mail and texting friends, all while interacting in a coffee shop (or “taking notes” in a lecture hall!).  And as Edmundson rightly observes, the person who thinks he can be in a half dozen places at once is not wholly anywhere.
“An Internet-linked laptop,” the author notes wryly, “is not a life thickener.”  Of course it has its uses, but the promotion of deep introspection does not seem to be one of them.  “To live well,” Edmundson writes, “we must sometimes stop and think and then try to remake the work in progress that we currently are.  There’s no better place for that than a college classroom where, together, we can slow it down and live deliberately.”
Yes.  I need to read this book.