What Happened to the Commonplace Book?

What Happened to the Commonplace Book? 

A Story of Technological Change in Nineteenth-Century England       

Prof. Jillian Hess (CUNY, Bronx Community College)

Thursday, April 13, 5 p.m.

Austin 217 (Stern Lounge)

In the midst of proliferating technologies, nineteenth-century writers registered an all too familiar problem: how does one organize information so that it is most useful? In response, many authors chose to take up the commonplace-book tradition by categorizing quotations and information in their own personal notebooks. Coleridge transcribed extracts in his “Fly-Catchers,” Tennyson wrote commonplaces in his “Butcher’s Books,” and George Eliot collected historical information in her “Quarry.” As Oscar Wilde wrote in his Oxford commonplace book, “nothing is easier than to accumulate facts, nothing is so hard as to use them.” This talk explores how Romantic and Victorian authors used their commonplace books as information management tools, while telling the story of what happened to this ancient tradition in the face of technological change, shifting practices of reading, and new conceptions of authorship.