Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age by Blair Ann M.
Driving down the cost of printing had many consequences.
Printing encouraged other ways of enhancing the legibility of the page, through the use of blank space, varied fonts, and typographical symbols or woodblock decorations or illustrations. Reference works in particular were often the site of such innovations, which facilitated consultation. By contrast, other long works shunned such devices. For example, Montaignes Essays (1580) did not even include paragraphs within chapters, some of which spanned up to one hundred pages of continuous prose.
Marginalia as artifact of cheaper printing makes sense, especially as part of a process of internalizing info, ie. from text to marginalia to journal / commonplace notebook to ledger / published works.
Though it is odd to see people committing text to memory word-for-word as words in print exploded. That said, it seems we are at a similar juncture, with likewise a redux of their amanuensis issues.
Photius provided author, title, a summary, and some personal judgments on each book in a form that has been compared to the book reviews that first appeared in literary periodicals in the late seventeenth century. The entries varied in length from a few lines to seventy pages, for a total size of ca. 500,000 words
Crucial to the development of scholasticism were the authoritative texts that inspired commentary and discussion. Scholastic teaching in canon law and theology focused on a few set texts composed for the use of cathedral schools in the twelfth century that used a combination of summary and selection to distill the material in those fields for students to master. Gratians Decretum in law and in theology Peter Lombards Sentences and the Glossa ordinaria with its commentary on the Vulgate compiled previous opinion and sorted it in a systematic order (following a standard order of legal or theological topics or the order of the Bible). Since students were expected to memorize the order of presentation, they could navigate these texts effectively even in the absence of finding devices
Alongside the biblical concordance the other massive work that originated in the training of mendicant preachers but far exceeded their needs is the largest and most famous of the medieval encyclopediasVincent of Beauvaiss Speculum maius (composed 124455). Weighing in at some 4.5 million words in four parts (the last of which was composed and added after Vincents death) and divided into a total of eighty books and 9,885 chapters, it is likely the largest reference work in the West before 1600.
Vincent announced the utility of his massive work for lectors like himself but also for a whole range of pious activities: But I am certain and trust in God, that this work is of no small use not only to me, but to every studious reader, not only to know God himself and his creatures visible and invisible, and through this knowledge to love God and to excite his heart to devotion by the sayings and examples of the charity of many doctors, but also to preach, to read, to dispute, to resolve, and generally to explain clearly almost any kind of art. Vincents Speculum included much more than the average lector or preacher needed and was designed as a multipurpose resource for users in many occupations.
Concordances and indexes to authoritative texts are evidence of a new sense of the limitations of the florilegium, which seemed increasingly inadequate to the complexity of university teaching and preaching. Vincent of Beauvais complained that existing compilations silently removed, added to, or changed the words of their sources and corrupted their meaning.
the pressures of the multitude and diversity of authoritative opinion, already articulated in the previous century by Peter Abelard (10791142), were heightened by the development of reference books, from indexes and concordances that made originalia searchable and to the large compilations that excerpted and summarized from diverse sources.
As noted above, references to the abundance of books appeared well before the early modern period, whether cast favorably (as cornucopian abundance) or unfavorably (as overabundance).195 Given the rapid accumulation of printed matter by the sixteenth century, the multitudo librorum was treated as a matter of general experience and agreement and was invoked in support of a variety of arguments, both familiar and new.
Humanist concerns about printing motivated one early appearance of the theme, in Erasmuss famous digressive commentary on the adage festina lente (make haste slowly), first published in 1525: Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?
For a time historians spoke of a reading revolution in eighteenth-century Europe, a rapid shift from a predominantly intensive reading focused on a careful and repetitive reading of a small number of texts that carried authority, to extensive reading that involved skimming and browsing through a much larger quantity and range of materialespecially the new periodicals and vernacular reference books that all offered indirect access to recently published books, through reviews, excerpts, debates, and cursory references. More detailed work in the history of reading has cast aside the strict periodization and the suddenness of change implied in the notion of a reading revolution.215 Rather than sudden shifts, I trace the development and spread of new methods of reading alongside the continuation of older options. Consultation reading existed among the learned in earlier centuries, and in an unbroken line of transmission at least as far back as the thirteenth century, so the most distinctively new kind of reading in the eighteenth century was not consultation reading but rather engrossment in the novels that were a new and successful genre.
Legal note-taking would also warrant study as a distinctive practice, which made possible the large accumulations of references characteristic of law books from the Middle Ages on.28 In seventeenth-century England, the desire to record proceedings in Parliament led to the spread of stenography, which was practiced according to many different systems. Most stenographic notes were used to make full transcriptions then discarded, but Samuel Pepys famously kept his diary in shorthand to preserve its privacy.
Early modern scholars referred most often to merchants as exemplars for their habit of keeping two notebooks: a daybook (or journal) to record transactions in the order in which they occurred and a ledger in which these transactions were sorted into categories, as in double-entry bookkeeping. In addition, Francis Bacon compared one of his notebooks to a merchants waste book, where to enter all manner of remembrance of matter, form
business, study, touching myself, service, others; either sparsim or in schedules, without any manner of restraint. An eighteenth-century manual of bookkeeping listed three stages of records a merchant should keep: waste book, journal (arranged in systematic order), and ledger (featuring an index to access all people, places, and merchandise). This three-layered note-taking appealed to the writer Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (174299), although his own notes published posthumously as his Sudelbcher exemplified especially the first of these stages with their disordered collection of aphoristic thoughts and excerpts. The notion of the merchant as a model to imitate in note-taking (voiced by Cicero in one of his orations) recurred beyond the early modern period, through changes to new techniques: an advocate for the index card in the early twentieth century, for example, called for the use of index cards in imitation of accountants of the modern school.
We should not attribute the spread of commonplacing and related forms of excerpting in the early modern period to the peculiar success of these pedagogues. Instead we can assume that their advice was widely followed because it adapted methods of note-taking already in existence (and visible, for example, in the structure of florilegia) and responded effectively to the new conditions of the Renaissance as they were experienced by a broad educated elite, including: the widespread availability of paper; a new abundance of printed texts, both ancient and modern; a desire to emulate classical rhetoric and culture; and a special enthusiasm for recovering lost material and guarding against future losses of information. Forming a durable collection of excerpts of the best bits from all the works one read, as the pedagogues advocated, promised a viable method for managing and benefiting from all the newly available information.
Drexel did not abandon the notion that one should remember ones notes, but later authors sometimes viewed notes as relieving the memory by offering storage and systematic retrievability without any need for retention. In an extreme formulation, Edgar Allan Poe attributed to the eighteenth-century writer Bernardin de Saint-Pierre this quip: What I put on paper, I put out of my memory and thus forget it.82 Today, too, notes are often seen as relieving the memory of an obligation to remember, since they are stored in written or electronic media; the problem then becomes one of remembering to retrieve the notes, or how to do so, when they might prove useful. Experts on personal information management today report that office workers often focus their efforts not so much on remembering the material they process and file directly, but rather on remembering what to do and where to find the tools that offer access to the material they have stored
classicists have succeeded in drawing a detailed picture of the methods of scholarship exemplified by Pliny in the first century CE. While Pliny read or was read to, he flagged (by dictation or by writing himself) passages of interest (adnotationes); these passages were copied in haste onto wax tablets (pugillares), most often by dictation to a slave/ secretary (notarius). The same passages (excerpta) were later transcribed more neatly and permanently onto papyrus rolls under headings; these sorted notes were called commentarii and presumably formed the material from which Pliny would compose his works.84 The elder Pliny was no doubt an exceptional figure. He reportedly devoted every possible moment to study, sleeping only a minimum and arranging to be read to while eating, traveling, or bathing. He took notes on every book that he read and bequeathed to his nephew 160 commentarii, or volumes of sorted notes, written in a minute hand on both sides of the page, so that their number is really doubled.
From the Middle Ages, surprisingly given the durability of parchment, we have no clearly marked large-scale collections of notes equivalent, say, to the 160 rolls of Plinys notes. No studies exist at the moment to correlate a medieval work with manuscripts that may have served as preparatory notes (including texts or excerpts gathered in miscellanies or florilegia, or indexes or other tools). In one case, however, we have an unusually good range of evidence about the working methods of one scholastic author, including autograph and dictated manuscripts and contemporary accounts of working methods. The unusually high profile of Thomas Aquinas (122574), in his day and since, enables us to make plausible arguments not only from what has been preserved but also from what has not. Drexel lists Aquinas among those who must have excerpted. But a close analysis of the extant manuscripts (four autograph manuscripts from early in his career and the later dictated manuscripts) and contemporary reports of his methods of working suggest that Aquinas worked not from a stockpile of notes like Pliny but rather from memory and direct access to books
Instead, the reconstruction by Antoine Dondaine suggests that Aquinas consulted books as needed while composing and could rely on the constant presence of more than one secretary. Aquinass ability to dictate simultaneously on different topics to three or four different secretaries was considered miraculous at the time, but this feat has also been attributed to Winston Churchill. Aquinas composed whenever he was ready, including in the middle of the night, in one instance waking his companion Raynald to write for him. Aquinas also worked with many books ready at handhis secretaries in particular were responsible for making copies of the texts he required
Heading choice happened either at the moment of reading, if one entered the passage directly into a sorted commonplace book, or at a later stage, in the case of notes arranged in the order of reading and later sorted by heading, whether by copying the passage over again (as Sacchini recommended) or by adding headings in the margin of the first notebook (as discussed below) or by drawing up an index to the notebook (as Drexel advocated). Hesitation at the moment of assigning a heading can occasionally be observed in manuscript notes, for example when Montaigne crossed out one heading for another in his marginal annotations.120 Montaignes originality often consisted in using a passage to unexpected purposes, notably by assigning an unusual heading to it, thus creating an original rather than a standard lesson out of an unpredictable set of examples.
In 1571 Zwinger added for the first time an index exemplorum consisting of the names of the individuals (or occasionally the places or peoples) featured in each exemplum. The examples indexed were not themes or moral lessons, but the people themselves whose behavior and fate instructed the reader, though the index included occasional thematic entries, such as memory, use of between Memnon, miraculous statue of and Memphis, inept actor.
Bibliographies did not originate with printing or the early modern period. Ancient and medieval bibliographical works included autobibliographies (e.g., Galens list of his own works), doxographical sources (e.g., Diogenes Laertius or Stobaeus, which listed authors and their works), lists of works cited or recommended (starting in the twelfth century), and lists of authors and works in a particular religious or regional tradition. In the latter category De viris illustribus of the church father Jerome (347420) was written to demonstrate the achievements of Christian authors in his day and was copied and imitated throughout the Middle Ages, notably, starting in the twelfth century, by bibliographies devoted to specific religious orders. The first printed bibliography, De ecclesiasticis scriptoribus (1494) by Trithemius, abbot of Sponheim (14621516), belonged in this traditionit was devoted to 963 ecclesiastical authors, with a strong local bias toward German authors represented in nearby monasteries and listed in an earlier bibliography from the same region. In one case, a bibliography drawn up collectively by the houses of the Windesheim Congregation, 14701530, also included information about the location of books among the housesanother example of how library catalogs and bibliographies could overlap in form and function.
After three more editions (Venice, 1592, and Lyon/Geneva, 1600 and 1604) boasting corrections and enlargements (but only minor ones), a new ambitious compiler, Joseph Lange (ca. 15701615), gave the Polyanthea a thorough overhaul; the edition of Lyon, 1604, was the first of a long series of Zetzner imprints. Lange introduced much new material, not only more quotations from respected authors but also new kinds of passages taken from sixteenth-century collections of emblems, fables, exempla, and hieroglyphica (which designated symbolic interpretations of terms). To make it easier to find material within a heading Lange devised a systematic subdivision of each entry into sections by category of material (Bible, church fathers, poets, orators, emblems, etc.)
Placcius noted in passing a plan he had had for an encyclopedia on every subject matter, with Latin phrases for elegant and copious use: If I wrote for fame or lucre, this would have been a very salable volume.50 Alluding perhaps to the success of the Polyanthea, Placcius clearly felt that he wrote neither for fame nor for financial gain. Why then did he excerpt so much? He did not specify his motives, but one can surmise that he was driven in large part by a search for order, for access to and mastery of books and knowledge through better indexes, outlines, selections, and summaries. In 1689 Placcius wrote to warn others of the pitfalls he experienced in the process. He especially regretted four related problems: taking too many notes in haste and without judgment, taking notes that proved useless afterward, taking imperfect notes (erroneous or excessively brief), and taking more notes on the words of others than on his own thoughts
To raise funds for the publication of his Cosmographia universalis (1544), a large and lavishly illustrated compilation of geographical information, Sebastian Mnster solicited contributions from the cities he described. Some obliged, to varying degrees, while others did not. The book turned out to be a great success, with further editions published soon after the first, but Mnster received only 60 gulden, while the bulk of the profits went to the printer who had borne the risk and expenses.60 Publication by subscription originated in England in the early seventeenth century, with the publication of John Minsheus Etymological Dictionary of Eleven Languages of 1617, to which a list of subscribers was appended.61 Nonetheless, many a large reference book proved ruinous or nearly so to its publishers, from the Thesaurus linguae graecae, which nearly bankrupted Henri Estiennes business, to the Oxford English Dictionary, which strained Clarendon Press.
Thomas Platter (14991582), whose school Zwinger attended, recounted chewing on raw turnips and sand and drinking cold water to keep himself awake to study longer.110 Other tricks included keeping ones feet in a basin of cold water or reading with just one eye open to rest the other; one scholars method of sleeping only every other night did not prove viable for long.111 The hard work of the scholar was understood to take a toll on the body. Scholars regularly complained of damage to their eyes and to their health in general. The wife of Adrien Turnbe (151265), author of a large volume of adversaria, blamed her husbands death on too many sleepless nights poring over books.112 The death of Louis Morri (164380) at age thirty-seven was attributed by contemporaries to overwork on a second edition of his biographical dictionary of 1674; that second edition appeared posthumously in 1681 and was followed by eighteen more (often augmented) editions down to 1759.113 Compilers routinely faced overload from an overabundance of books to read and text to write
As an example of the contrast between manual and current computer indexing, the indexes to the early editions of Bartletts Quotations took twenty people six months to complete, while the computerized indexing of the current edition takes a computer 3 hours to compiledown from about 19,200 hours of labor in the nineteenth century.