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Commonplace Books

The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book, a lecture by Stephen Berlin Johnson, talks about search-engine results as something like a "commonplace book": a collection of quotations assembled with common themes sorted together into "common places", as in a concordance. That metaphor leads Johnson to talk about intellectual property in the Internet age, an important topic.

But equally fascinating is the historical aspect of commonplace books. A wide range of thinkers kept them, including John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Locke designed a clever system of cross-indexing the entries in his book based on the first letter and following vowel—a primitive hash table algorithm. And the commonplace book concept is essentially a pre-computer era personal wiki—an idea-scrapbook. Rather like large parts of this ^zhurnal, eh?!

(cf. [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. [6], ...) - ^z - 2010-05-10