No claim is made for completeness in these links. The first group includes the bookmarking/extract systems of Ben Jonson, John Locke and some others preceding or roughly contemporaneous with John Todd. (Locke is cited by Todd, Todd is cited by Ames.) The second group contains more recent literature on commonplace books, scrapbooks and related practices.

The page concludes with items recently bookmarked at on these related practices.


  • Ben Jonson. Timber: or, Discoveries made upon men and matter, as they have flowed out of his daily readings ; or had their reflux to his peculiar notions of the times. (1640? 41?).

    Extracts, rephrasings, imitations made upon the authors of Jonson’s daily reading (p. xx). I include Timber in this page, because it turns up in discussions of commonplace books, and to bookmark it for my own and others’ further use. An epigram explains the title, translated thus by the editor —

    Silva, the raw material of facts and thoughts... wood, as it were, so called from the multiplicity and variety of the matter contained therein. For just as we are commonly wont to call a vast number of trees growing indiscriminately a wood (timber); so also did the ancients call those of their books, in which were collected at random articles upon various and diverse topics, a wood (timber-trees)..

    This book, and this passage, puts later collections of aphorisms to mind — Bruyère, Joubert, Novalis, Chamfort and, above all, Lichtenberg his Sudelbücher (waste books), that life-long assemblage of extracts, sketches, titles, etc., etc., from which his aphorisms are drawn.

    Google Book scan of Schelling’s 1892 edition here (Harvard’s well-marked-up copy)
    Text starts here; see also (wonderful) analytical index; notes (primarily glosses to the Latin) here

  • John Locke. A New Method of a Common-Place Book (1686 France, 1706 England)
    can be found via the Google Book scan of Volume 2 in the nine-volume Works of John Locke (1824), pp 441-459

  • John F. Ames. The Mnemosynum: Intended to aid, not only students and professional men, but every other class of citizens, in keeping a record of incidents, facts, &c., in such a manner that they may be recalled at pleasure: with an introduction, showing its benefits and its manner of being kept. Utica, N.Y.: Orren Hutchinson, 1840

    PDF of NYPL copy available via Google Book (accessed 29 apr 08)

    Designed to accommodate not just citations, but longer extracts from books and periodicals to which the user might not presently have access. Ames praises Todd’s Index Rerum, but objects that by allotting only a fixed number of pages to each initial consonant and vowel, its system might not accommodate longer extracts. His solution in The Mnemosynum is to provide a short index along the lines of Todd, that would also direct one to the full extract (if one is made) at a later page (or potentially, even a different volume).

    Thus, lies somewhere between Locke and Todd : index of citations, and separate space for extracts. Mnemosynum, incidentally, means souvenir, keepsake.

  • William Augustus Guy, On the Use of Common-place Books in Self-Education, which is one of the Lectures in connection with the Educational Exhibition of the Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, Delivered at St. Martin’s Hall (London, 1854).
    Available via Google Book, and

    William Augustus Guy, On the best Method of Collecting and Arranging Facts, with a proposed new Plan of Common-place Book. in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 1841, pp 353-366
    Available via Google Book scan.

    Here, I elaborate on the 1854 item because it was the first of Guy’s to come to my attention, some years ago. It breaks no new ground, however, from the 1841 paper.

    Guy describes Locke’s system, which (along with John Todd’s) is found wanting, for nothing can be more opposed to all method than the grouping of subjects together without any other bond of connection than an initial letter and a first vowel. (p75) He proposes here, and in his 1841 essay, a different system whose reliance on abstract, analytical principles brings Roget’s Thesaurus to mind, and of McCutcheon’s classification of subjects (for telegraphic messages) in divisions of affirmations or assertions that might be made of topics (see his Telegraphic Formula and Code Combiner (1885)).

    Guy’s system involves organization of topics on loose sheets, providing subject, subdivision of the subject, and on the third line, the particular proposition, hypothesis, theory, &c., which the entries in the body of the paper are intended to illustrate. (p78) He gives a wonderful example of the means by which a Kosak identifies a thief, which falls under Table IV.— Influence of the mind on the Body / Of the imagination in the senses / sense of sight / Ingenious mode of detecting a thief.

    From that earlier publication, Guy borrows this —

    I know indeed of no means by which reading is likely to be rendered profitable as by the reflection which must be exerted on every fact as it is thus arranged in its proper place, and in due relation to others; and I know, from actual experience, the great superiority of a method which implies the constant exercise of reason and reflection over that which, consisting merely in transcribing the thoughts of others, is but too apt to convert the man of learning and science into a mere amanuensis. (p85)

    William Augustus Guy (1810-1885) was professor of medical jurisprudence (later of hygiene) at King’s College, London, and author of various works including: Hooper’s physician’s vade mecum; or, A manual of the principles and practice of physic. 4th ed., considerably enlarged and improved with an outline of general pathology and therapeutics by W.A. Guy (London, 1854); Principles of forensic medicine (London, 1844); and Unhealthiness of town, its causes and remedies (London, 1843).


  • Ann Blair. Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book. Journal of the History of Ideas 53:4 (Oct-Dec 1992): 541-551
    jstor address 2709935

    On persistence of commonplacing methods (collections of realia or interesting bits of general information sorted under appropriate subject headings according to the topics and themes addressed) throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and even into Francis Bacon his Novum Organum.

  • Ann Blair. Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700. Journal of the History of Ideas 64:1 (Jan 2003): 11-28
    jstor address 3654293

  • Ann Blair. Note Taking as an Art of Transmission. Critical Inquiry 31 (Autumn 2004) : 85-107

    Focuses on early modern period.

  • William Breazeale. Sketchbook and Zibaldone: Girolamo da Carpi’s Roman Drawings. Storia dell’Arte 106 (2003) : 5-24

    A compact version of the author’s dissertation, that explores the preparatory processes of painter and poet... These are reflected in the painter’s sketchbook and the poet’s zibaldone, or commonplace-book, in which he collected passages as he read foregoing authors and arranged them under moral headings before using them as the basis for new works. Places the sketchbook in the context of classical and Renaissance ideas about prudence, rhetorical invention; treats the role of copying artists, and how this practice leads to new invention.

    That dissertation (which I have not seen) is : William Carl Breazeale. Sketchbook and zibaldone: Studies in the theory and practice of disegno in sixteenth-century Italy. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 2005. AAT 3178556.

  • Lucia Dacome. Noting the Mind: Commonplace Books and the Pursuit of the Self in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Journal of the History of Ideas 65:4 (October 2004) : 603-625
    jstor address 3654271

    ...This paper has examined how Lockean compiling flourished in an environment in which the order of one’s mind was valued as a sign of social as well as personal accomplishment and moral integrity. As a changing technology of learning, commonplacing substantiated new models of intellectual conduct and new subjectivities.

  • Ellen Gruber Garvey. Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Appropriation: Scrapbooks and extra-illustration
    in Common-Place 7:3 (April 2007)

    ...scrapbooks created to save newspaper and magazine items often used few of the pictures from those publications. Perhaps pictures undercut the seriousness of a homemade object that mimicked the look of a book or newspaper.

  • Ellen Gruber Garvey. Scissorizing and Scrapbooks : Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating, in Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, eds., New Media, 1740-1915 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003).

    Garvey discusses Todd’s Index Rerum as one of several modes of capturing and recirculating information in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her emphasis is on scrapbook-keeping as a mode of authorship.

  • Ellen Gruber Garvey. The Pedagogy of the Periodical, the Primer, and the Scrapbook, her presentation at SHARP 2008.

  • Britta Gustafson, from a paper toward coagulating ideas (December 2008) : effort to compare historical and contemporary material and digital practices for remembering and sharing what has been read: annotation, especially bookmarks.

    One of the nice references in those coagulatory notes is this, to Michel Foucault’s discussion of hupomnemata, being a device (notebook?) of memory and its role in the ascesis of truth. But see the discussion to the hypomnema entry in wikipedia.

  • Earle Havens. Commonplace Books: A History of Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century (in conjunction with an exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, 23 July through 29 September 2001 (published by the Beinecke in 2001). See also

    Jessica Helfand —

  • The Daily Scrapbook
    Website, including blog, scrapbook stories, and resources for Helfand’s
    Scrapbooks : An American History (Yale University Press, 2008).

  • Scrapbooking: The New Paste-up (March 2005)
    A fascinating blog entry at designobserver, that generated lots of ideas and some heated exchanges.

    Beyond the valley of the doilies (4 December 2008)
    The billion-dollar scrapbooking industry may be cheesy, but as author Jessica Helfand explains, there’s rich history in that glitter and glue.

    This Salon article, by Joy Press, created a churning wake of comments (62 as of this writing), vitriolic and otherwise.

  • Leigh Ina Hunt. Victorian passion to modern phenomenon: A literary and rhetorical analysis of two hundred years of scrapbooks and scrapbook making. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 2006. Proquest AAT 3252453.

    The entirety of this wonderful dissertation available online, here.

    First chapter sorts out the definitions of scrapbooks, photo albums, albums, commonplace books, using the Arts and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) and the OED. Hunt writes : While commonplace books set themselves apart as sites for indexed, copied text and photograph albums set themselves apart as bound galleries for photographs, scrapbooks set themselves apart as accommodating both types of items and much more. Good discussion of the evolution of commonplace books, role of grangerizing (from James Granger his Biographical History of England 1769, that included blank pages to be illustrated by the reader — in emblematic or other ways), increased availability of printed matter (e.g., newspapers) and concommitant need for larger sheets for their assembly (people would recycle accounting ledgers, for example), and the impact of lithography and chromolithography, leading to the production and collection of scraps.

    Final chapter discusses e-scrapbooks, which allow navigation functions that are not typically found in paper scrapbooks; these include internal search engines and page thumbnails. Few if any scrapbooks have indexes; commonplace books are, at least in the John Todd/Lockean model, indexes.

  • Lisa Kaborycha. Copying Culture: Fifteenth-century Florentines and their zibaldoni. Dissertation, UC Berkeley, 2006.

    abstract here.

  • Susan Miller. Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Commonplace Writing (Pittsburgh, 1998). Miller discusses Todd under the heading Exemplary Templates for Experience (pp 43-49), where she argues that such collections of commonplaces transform to printed volumes of blank yet already coded pages many collections of items that forecast individualism in their decidedly personal ownership of intertextuality.

    Miller refers to Ben Jonson’s Timber to assert that his and other well-stocked collections of language are not museums where artifacts made by others are respectfully viewed with an access granted by codified ’tradition.’ They are also originary sources of disposable wealth, entitlements to authorial spending.

  • Ann Moss. Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996
  • Ann Moss. Locating Knowledge. In Karl A. E. Enenkel and Wolfgang Neuber, eds., Cognition and the Book : Typoglogies of Formal Organisation of Knowledge in the Printed Book of the Early Modern Period. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2005. 35-50.

  • Howard T. Senzel. Looseleafing The Flow : An Anecdotal History of One Technology for Updating. The American Journal of Legal History 44:2 (April 2000) : 115-197
    jstor address 846120

    Fascinating, hard to paraphrase (like the law?), and no abstract available. I liked this passage — from a section called Some History of the Clerical Dialectic — for its offhanded reference to the book as a kind of coffin :

    As volume increased with these [writing technology] advances, paperwork considered unnecessary was tied with red tape and sealed, or sewn up into a bound book and then shoved into a box. The increasing quantity of information was a problem; hiding it was the response.

    Looseleaf assemblage of cases (best suited to administrative law, e.g., bankruptcy, banking, labor law, utilities, trade, securities, and taxation) afforded a means of keeping relevant cases at hand, and less relevant cases out of view; this is something like Ranganathan’s Apupa Arrangement — Alien / Penumbral / Umbral / Penumbral / Alien. Senzel describes the supply-side proliferation of competing looseleaf and other legal information services, and problems associated with these (from the legal community, and librarians’, standpoints).

    Relates in some ways to the struggle of architecture and engineering firms to stay current with vendor literature ca 1906, when Sweet’s introduced its first indexed Book of Catalogues. Information flow would be an important theme in the guidelines Sweet’s issued to companies that submitted their catalogs to its service, namely Catalog Design (1944, by K. Lönberg-Holm and Ladislav Sutnar), and the more elaborate catalog design progress (1950, same authors) that is now a classic of information design. What has this got to do with index rerum, and commonplace books? Database maintenance and finding.

  • David Smith’s it’s not just the bookmarks... (August 6, 2006), in which he observes that with delicious, as with flickr, the act of consumption is itself an act of creation. I find that looking over readers’ shoulders, even with nineteenth-century index rerum, I’m getting something akin to the insights afforded by delicious, the detours they prompt that turn out, sometimes, not to be detours at all. This link via britta, by the way.
  • Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott, and Patricia P. Buckler, eds. The scrapbook in American life . Philadelphia, PA : Temple University Press, 2006.

  • Richard Yeo. John Locke’s New Method of Commonplacing: Managing Memory and Information. Eighteenth Century Thought 2 (2004): 1-38