Professor Ann Blair’s (Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard University) public lecture, State Library of Queensland, Thursday 17 July, 6pm.
Note-taking plays an important role in the management of information and the creation of knowledge. For example, the notes we take in reading books, conducting surveys or observing nature often serve as sources for the works we write and the conclusions we draw, in the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences. Unfortunately when notes are valued only temporarily they are often not saved beyond their immediate use and are lost to historical inquiry. Historians have recently begun to study note-taking as an historical phenomenon and to assess what sources are available. Almost no notes survive from periods before the Renaissance, although we have indirect evidence about the kinds of notes taken in some contexts in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Starting with the Renaissance, however, there are a number of large collections of notes which survive―-reading notes, for the most part, taken by famous scholars, for example, but also by some little-known gentlemen. I will examine why, starting in the Renaissance, collections of notes were sometimes preserved long after their initial use. Drawing on different kinds of sources (advice books about note-taking as well as surviving notes), I will present an illustrated survey of methods of note-taking in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, including notes in the margins of books, in notebooks and on loose slips of paper, and of the uses to which they were put.