Commonplace Books

Commonplace books are worth 15% of your grade. You will submit these twice, turning in your commonplace books with each exam (each commonplace book is worth 7.5% of your grade). Commonplace books for this class must be pocket-sized. I use Field Notes 3-1/2" × 5-1/2" notebooks, but you are free to use whatever brand you like. If you have questions about what counts as "pocket-sized," please bring your notebook to class and ask. If your notebook is too big, you will not receive credit, and you will not be able to use it on the exam.

Commonplace books are not necessarily just collections of your notes. They are more like catalogs of ideas, though the way this catalog is organized is up to you. In her article "Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book," Ann Blair describes commonplace books in this way:

"One selects passages of interest for the rhetorical turns of phrase, the dialectical arguments, or the factual information they contain; one then copies them out in a notebook, the commonplace book, kept handy for the purpose, grouping them under appropriate headings to facilitate later retrieval and use." (541)

Commonplace books are used to gather phrases that we find interesting, either for what they say or how they say it, as well as factual information we find important. They also involve some kind of system for sorting information, and that system is developed by the person keeping the commonplace book (this means everyone's system of sorting will be different).

In this class, you will keep your own commonplace book to record things you find important or interesting about our readings and to record things you encounter outside of class that are relevant to our discussions. These commonplace books are meant to be a useful tool for you, so how you approach them is largely up to you. You will be able to consult these books during exams, and we will also discuss their contents during our class discussions. If you run out of space in your commonplace book, you may start a new one. You may bring as many notebooks as you fill to the exam.

When evaluating commonplace books, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Have you recorded observations about the readings
  • Have you made note of things you encountered outside of class that are relevant to our class discussions?
  • Have you developed (or are you in the process of developing) a way of sorting the information in your commonplace book? In other words, does the commonplace book show that you are working on a system for sorting the information that you are recording?
  • Have you made a good faith effort to complete this assignment?