- Last 7 days
There is a difference between various modes of note taking and their ultimate outcomes. Some is done for learning about an area and absorbing it into one's own source of general knowledge. Others are done to collect and generate new sorts of knowledge. But some may be done for raw data collection and analysis. Beatrice Webb called this "scientific note taking".
Historian Jacques Goutor talks about research preparation for this sort of data collecting and analysis though he doesn't give it a particular name. He recommends reading papers in related areas to prepare for the sort of data acquisition one may likely require so that one can plan out some of one's needs in advance. This will allow the researcher, especially in areas like history or sociology, the ability to preplan some of the sorts of data and notes they'll need to take from their historical sources or subjects in order to carry out their planned goals. (p8)
C. Wright Mills mentions (On Intellectual Craftsmanship, 1952) similar research planning whereby he writes out potential longer research methods even when he is not able to spend the time, effort, energy, or other (financial) resources to carry out such plans. He felt that just the thought experiments and exercise of doing such unfulfilled research often bore fruit in his other sociological endeavors.
In "On Intellectual Craftsmanship" (1952), C. Wright Mills talks about his methods for note taking, thinking, and analysis in what he calls "sociological imagination". This is a sociologists' framing of their own research and analysis practice and thus bears a sociological related name. While he talks more about the thinking, outlining, and writing process rather than the mechanical portion of how he takes notes or what he uses, he's extending significantly on the ideas and methods that Sönke Ahrens describes in How to Take Smart Notes (2017), though obviously he's doing it 65 years earlier. It would seem obvious that the specific methods (using either files, note cards, notebooks, etc.) were a bit more commonplace for his time and context, so he spent more of his time on the finer and tougher portions of the note making and thinking processes which are often the more difficult parts once one is past the "easy" mechanics.
While Mills doesn't delineate the steps or materials of his method of note taking the way Beatrice Webb, Langlois & Seignobos, Johannes Erich Heyde, Antonin Sertillanges, or many others have done before or Umberto Eco, Robert Greene/Ryan Holiday, Sönke Ahrens, or Dan Allosso since, he does focus more on the softer portions of his thinking methods and their desired outcomes and provides personal examples of how it works and what his expected outcomes are. Much like Niklas Luhmann describes in Kommunikation mit Zettelkästen (VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1981), Mills is focusing on the thinking processes and outcomes, but in a more accessible way and with some additional depth.
Because the paper is rather short, but specific in its ideas and methods, those who finish the broad strokes of Ahrens' book and methods and find themselves somewhat confused will more than profit from the discussion here in Mills. Those looking for a stronger "crash course" might find that the first seven chapters of Allosso along with this discussion in Mills is a straighter and shorter path.
While Mills doesn't delineate his specific method in terms of physical tools, he does broadly refer to "files" which can be thought of as a zettelkasten (slip box) or card index traditions. Scant evidence in the piece indicates that he's talking about physical file folders and sheets of paper rather than slips or index cards, but this is generally irrelevant to the broader process of thinking or writing. Once can easily replace the instances of the English word "file" with the German concept of zettelkasten and not be confused.
One will note that this paper was written as a manuscript in April 1952 and was later distributed for classroom use in 1955, meaning that some of these methods were being distributed from professor to students. The piece was later revised and included as an appendix to Mill's text The Sociological Imagination which was first published in 1959.
Because there aren't specifics about Mills' note structure indicated here, we can't determine if his system was like that of Niklas Luhmann, but given the historical record one could suppose that it was closer to the commonplace tradition using slips or sheets. One thing becomes more clear however that between the popularity of Webb's work and this (which was reprinted in 2000 with a 40th anniversary edition), these methods were widespread in the mid-twentieth century and specifically in the field of sociology.
Above and beyond most of these sorts of treatises on note taking method, Mills does spend more time on the thinking portions of the practice and delineates eleven different practices that one can focus on as they actively read/think and take notes as well as afterwards for creating content or writing.
My full notes on the article can be found at https://jonudell.info/h/facet/?user=chrisaldrich&max=100&exactTagSearch=true&expanded=true&addQuoteContext=true&url=urn%3Ax-pdf%3A0138200b4bfcde2757a137d61cd65cb8
- Sep 2022
Heyde, Johannes Erich. Technik des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens. (Sektion 1.2 Die Kartei) Junker und Dünnhaupt, 1931.
(Unknown translation from German into English. v1 TK)
The overall title of the work (in English: Technique of Scientific Work) calls immediately to mind the tradition of note taking growing out of the scientific historical methods work of Bernheim and Langlois/Seignobos and even more specifically the description of note taking by Beatrice Webb (1926) who explicitly used the phrase "recipe for scientific note-taking".
first reading: 2022-08-23 second reading: 2022-09-22
In writing my dissertation and working on my first book, I used an index card system, characterized by the "one fact, one card" maxim, made popular by Beatrice Webb.
Manfred Keuhn indicates that Webb popularized the idea of "one fact, one card", (and perhaps she may have helped re-popularize the idea in the 20th century) but Konrad Gessner (Pandectarum sive Partitionum Universalium. Zurich: Christoph Froschauer, 1548) had already advised "A new line should be used for every idea." Since Gessner then says that each line was to be cut up into an individual slip, the ideas are equivalent.
- Aug 2022
The sheet box
Interesting choice of translation for "Die Kartei" by the translator. Some may have preferred the more direct "file".
Historically for this specific time period, while index cards were becoming more ubiquitous, most of the prior century researchers had been using larger sheets and frequently called them either slips or sheets based on their relative size.
Beatrice Webb in 1926 (in English) described her method and variously used the words “cards”, “slips”, “quarto”, and “sheets” to describe notes. Her preference was for quarto pages which were larger pages which were likely closer to our current 8.5 x 11” standard than they were to even larger index cards (like 4 x 6".
While I have some dissonance, this translation makes a lot of sense for the specific time period. I also tend to translate the contemporaneous French word “fiches” of that era as “sheets”.
By the earlytwentieth century advice manuals on research methods recommended takingnotes on index cards.141
Here Blair quotes Chavigny and Heyde, but crucially leaves out Bernheim, Langlois & Seignobos, and Beatrice Webb.
Check the others, specifically for index card references, but Webb uses slips or sheets (and often larger ones).
ManuelRodriguez331 · 8 hr. agotaurusnoises wrote on Aug 20, 2022: Technik des Wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens by Johannes Erich HeydeThe idea of grouping similar notes together with the help of index cards was mainstream knowledge in the 1920'er. Melvil Dewey has invented the decimal classification in 1876 and it was applied to libraries and personal note taking as well.quote: “because for every note there is a systematically related one in the immediate vicinity. [...] A good, scholarly book can grow out of the mere collection of notes — not an ingenious one, indeed" The single cause why it wasn't applied more frequently was because of the limitation of the printing press. In the year 1900 only 100 scholarly journals were available in the world. There was no need to write more manuscripts and teach the art of Scientific Writing to a larger audience. Kuntze, Friedrich: Die Technik der geistigen Arbeit, 1922
Index card systems were insanely popular in the early 1900's for note taking and uses of all other sorts (business administration, libraries, etc.). The note taking tradition of the slip box goes back even further in intellectual history with precedents including miscellanies, commonplace books, and florilegia. Konrad Gessner may have been one of the first to have created a method using slips of rearrangeable paper in the 1500s, but this general pattern of excerpting, note taking and writing goes back to antiquity with the concept of locus communis (Latin) and tópos koinós (Greek).
What some intellectual historians are hoping for evidence of in this particular source is a possible origin of the idea of the increased complexity of direct links from one card to another as well as the juxtaposition of ideas which build on each other. Did Luhmann innovate this himself or was this something he read or was in general practice which he picked up? Most examples of zettelkasten outside of Luhmann's until those in the present, could be described reasonably accurately as commonplace books on index cards usually arranged by topic/subject heading/head word (with or without internal indices).
Perhaps it was Luhmann's familiarity with Aktenzeichen (German administrative "file numbers") prior to his academic work which inspired the dramatically different form his index card-based commonplace took? See: https://hyp.is/CqGhGvchEey6heekrEJ9WA/www.wikiwand.com/de/Aktenzeichen_(Deutschland)
Is it possible that he was influenced by Beatrice Webb's ideas on note taking from Appendix C of My Apprenticeship (1924) which was widely influential in the humanities and particularly sociology and anthropology? Would he have been aware of the work of historians Ernst Bernheim followed by Charles Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos? (see: https://hypothes.is/a/DLP52hqFEe2nrIMdrd4U7g) Did Luhmann's law studies expose him to the work of jurist Johann Jacob Moser (1701-1785) who wrote about his practice in his autobiography and subsequently influenced generations of practitioners including Jean Paul and potentially Hegel?
There are obviously lots of unanswered questions...
- open questions
- Ernst Bernheim
- tópos koinós
- card index
- Johann Jacob Moser
- locus communis
- intellectual history
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- Johannes Erich Heyde
- Beatrice Webb
Useful suggestions in regard tonote-taking will be found in Samuel S . Seward, Note-taking,Boston, 1910; and, especially for more advanced students, inEarle W. DOW, Principles of a note-system for hirton’calstudies, New York, 1924
He's read Langlois/Seignobos and Bernheim, but doesn't recommend/reference them for note taking, but points to Seward and Dow instead.
What are the differences between the four methods?
Note that this advice is in 1931, a few years after Beatrice Webb's My Apprentice which has a section on note taking that prefers the first two without mention of the latter two.
It would appear that Seward is the brother of William Henry Seward. see: https://hypothes.is/a/MwspfCBOEe2YCpesAgwiGQ
- Jul 2022
With practice, your SourceNotes will become more like data and your Points moreanalytical.
This distinguishing factor is a more useful one than those in other systems.
Compare this with the idea of Beatrice Webb's "analytic notes" versus "synthetic notes" or "scientific notes" which she describes in My Apprentice (1926).
Web considers "analytic note taking" to be the raw data collection and arrangement (in the same vein of creating databases in the computer science space, which didn't exist when she did her work) upon which historical work is based.
She views "synthetic notes" as observations of behaviours and writings which probably more closely resembles the idea of "literature notes" (Ahrens) or "source notes" (Allosso). Some of the difference is that she's viewing her notes as a tool for her particular work (sociology) rather than as a broader enterprise which might be used in all fields.
Webb's synthetic notes are also likely bound up in her idea of Herbert Spencer's "synthetic philosophy" of thinking, which may require some more reading of these sections on my part to better distinguish her specific meaning.
Webb didn't seem to have a version of "permanent notes" in her conceptualization. Perhaps this is an indication that the evolution of the note really only occurred as it was placed into published writing. This may potentially preclude the reuse of the evolved ideas unless they are separately re-subsumed into one's note collection.
Ahrens' conceptualization of the zettelkasten has all the writing, revision, and evolution work occurring in the slip box itself so it's always available and reusable. Many modern note taking and writing systems would seem to elide this part. (Is this true in practice? Can we provide examples?)
Synthesis notes are a strategy for taking and using reading notes that bring together—synthesize—what we read with our thoughts about our topic in a way that lets us integrate our notes seamlessly into the process of writing a first draft. Six steps will take us from reading sources to a first draft.
Similar to Beatrice Webb's definition of synthetic notes in My Apprentice (1926), thought this also includes movement into actually drafting writing.
What year was this written?
The idea here seems to be less discrete in the steps of the writing process and subsumes multiple things instead of breaking them into discrete conceptual parts. Has this been some of what has caused issues in the note taking to creation process in the last century?
I can't tell what the publication date is on this (the original book was 1926, but this edition appears to be 1940s+) but there's a fantastic advertisement for Pelmanism in the back of this Pelican edition of Beatrice Webb's My Apprenticeship.
Addendum:<br /> A few pages before this in the advertisements is a mention that the list of Pelican books listed is only to 1938, so this was likely a 1938 publication, which also puts it into a time period in which Bruno Furst was operating.
The publication of this advertisement in a text which may have been read by students and academics is a fascinating link of these practices, though her appendix on note taking was not included in this particular volume (1 of 2 apparently).
Christof Ludwig Poehlmann aka Christopher Louis Pelman (Anglicized) aka Ludwig Poehlmann (as known to Bruno Furst in Germany)
The industrious apprentice will find in the Appendix (C) a short memorandumon the method of analytic note-taking, which we have found most convenient inthe use of documents and contemporaneous literature, as well as in the recording ofinterviews and personal observations.
method of analytic note-taking from Beatrice Webb
And whilst I could plan out an admirable system ofnote-taking, the actual execution of the plan was, owing toan inveterate tendency to paraphrase extracts which I in¬tended to copy, not to mention an irredeemably illegible hand¬writing, a wearisome irritation to me.
CHAPTER ICHARACTER AND CIRCUMSTANCEIn the following pages I describe the craft of a social in¬vestigator as I have practised it. I give some account of myearly and crude observation and clumsy attempts at reason¬ing, and then of the more elaborated technique of note¬taking, of listening to and recording the spoken word and ofobserving and even experimenting in the life of existinginstitutions.
While she leaves note taking specifically to Appendix C, Beatrice Webb mentions her "more elaborated technique of note-taking" in the second sentence of the book.
Struggling with the Co-op. News and enduring all the miseries ofwant of training in methods of work [I write some weeks later].Midway I discover that my notes are slovenly, and under wrong head¬ings, and I have to go through some ten weeks’ work again! Up at6.30 and working 5 hours a day, sometimes 6. Weary but not dis¬couraged. [MS. diary, July 26, 1889.]
Indication that in July 1889, Beatrice Webb was developing her note taking methods and had a setback.
It wasnot until we had completely re-sorted all our innumerable sheets ofpaper according to subjects, thus bringing together all the facts relatingto each, whatever the trade concerned, or the place or the date—andhad shuffled and reshuffled these sheets according to various tentativehypotheses—that a clear, comprehensive and verifiable theory of theworking and results of Trade Unionism emerged in our minds; tobe embodied, after further researches by way of verification, in ourIndustrial Democracy (1897).
Beatrice Webb was using her custom note taking system in the lead up to the research that resulted in the publication of Industrial Democracy (1897).
Is there evidence that she was practicing this note taking/database practice earlier than this?
On many occasions we have been com¬pelled to break off the writing of a particular chapter, or even of aparticular paragraph, in order to test, by reshuffling the whole of ournotes dealing with a particular subject, a particular place, a particularorganisation or a particular date, the relative validity of hypotheses asto cause and effect. I may remark, parenthetically, that we have foundthis “ game with reality ”, this building up of one hypothesis andknocking it down in favour of others that had been revealed or verifiedby a new shuffle of the notes—especially when we severally “ backed ”rival hypotheses—a most stimulating recreation! In that way alonehave we been able “ to put our bias out of gear ”, and to make ourorder of thought correspond, not with our own prepossessions, butwith the order of things discovered by our investigations.
Beatrice Webb's note taking system here shows indications of being actively used as a database system!
THE ART OF NOTE-TAKING
Beatrice Webb's suggestions: - Use sheets of paper and not notebooks, specifically so one can re-arrange, shuffle, and resort one's notes - She uses quarto pages as most convenient (quarto sizes have varied over time, but presumably hers were in the range of 8.5 x 11" sheets of paper, and thus rather large compared to index cards
It takes some careful attention, but her description of her method and how she used it in a pre-computer era is highly indicative of the fact that Beatrice Webb was actively creating a paper database system which she could then later query to compile data to either elicit insight or to prove answers to particular questions.
She specifically advises that one keep one and only one sort of particular types of data on each card whether that be dates, locations, subjects, or categories of facts. This is directly equivalent to the modern database design of only keeping one value in a particular field. As a result, each sheet within her notes might be equivalent to a row of related data which might contain a variety of different types of individual data. By not mixing data on individual sheets one can sort and resort their tables and effectively search through them without confusing data types.
Her work and examples here would have been in the period of 1890 and 1910 (she specifically cites that this method was used for her research on the "principles of 1834" which was subsequently published as English Poor Law Policy in 1910) at a time after Basile Bouchon and Joseph Marie Jacquard and contemporaneously with Herman Hollerith who were using punched cards for some of this sort of work.
; until, in 1907, eachclass had come to be dealt with according to principles which wereobviously very different from those of 1834. The report of this investi¬gation was presented to the Poor Law Commission, with the interest¬ing result that we heard no more of the “ principles of 1834 ”! It wassubsequently published as English Poor Law Policy (1910).
Beatrice Webb studied the effects of the British "principles of 1834" and how they were carried out (differently) from area to area to see the overall effects through 1907. The result of her study apparently showed what a poor policy it had been to the point that no one mentioned the old "principles of 1834" again.
How might this sort of sociological study be carried out on the effects of laws within the United States now in terms of economics and equality for various movements like redlining, abortion, etc.? Is anyone doing this sort of work?
There is an example of the Eviction Lab at Princeton has some of this sort of data and analysis. https://evictionlab.org/map
An instance may be given of the necessity of the “ separate sheet ” system.Among the many sources of information from which we constructed our bookThe Manor and the Borough were the hundreds of reports on particular boroughsmade by the Municipal Corporation Commissioners in 1835 .These four hugevolumes are well arranged and very fully indexed; they were in our own possession;we had read them through more than once; and we had repeatedly consulted themon particular points. We had, in fact, used them as if they had been our own boundnotebooks, thinking that this would suffice. But, in the end, we found ourselvesquite unable to digest and utilise this material until we had written out every oneof the innumerable facts on a separate sheet of paper, so as to allow of the mechanicalabsorption of these sheets among our other notes; of their complete assortment bysubjects; and of their being shuffled and reshuffled to test hypotheses as to suggestedco-existences and sequences.
Webb's use case here sounds like she's got the mass data, but that what she really desired was a database which she could more easily query to do her work and research. As a result, she took the flat file data and made it into a manually sortable and searchable database.
By the method of note-taking that I have described, it was practicableto sort out all our thousands of separate pieces of paper according toany, or successively according to all, of these categories or combinationof categories
The broad description of Beatrice Webb's note taking system sounds almost eerily like the idea behind edge notched cards, however in her case she was writing note in particular locations on cards in an effort to help her cause rather than putting physical punch holes into them.
What is the use of this pedantic method of note-taking, involvingmasses of paper and a lot of hard thinking, not to mention the shufflingand reshuffling, which is apparently the final cause of this intolerableelaboration? will be asked by the post-graduate student eager to pub¬lish an epoch-making treatise on the History of Government, or, per¬chance, on the History of Freedom, within the two years he has allottedto the taking of his doctorate. The only answer I can give is to citeour own experience.
Compare this statement to the no less grandiloquence of Niklas Luhmann's mission statement: "Theory of society; duration: 30 years; costs: none”.
This quote would seem to indicate that Luhmann had read or seen this book.
Luhmann's zettelkasten (search on 2022-07-19) only shows one card referencing some of her other work: https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/zettel/ZK_1_NB_33-1d1A4-1_V
recipe for scientific note-taking
Notice that Beatrice Webb uses the modifier "scientific" to describe her note taking. She also indicates that note taking has a "scientific value".
taking in sociological investigation
The simplest and most direct way of bringing home to the reader the truth of this dogmatic assertion of the scientific value of note-taking in sociological investigation...
Beatrice Webb indicates that it is an incontrovertible truth that sociologists should use a card index (zettelkasten) as a primary tool in their research.
We ought to closely notice that she wrote this truism about the field of sociology in a book published in 1926, the year prior to Niklas Luhmann's death.
How popular was her book with respect to the remainder of the field of sociology subsequently? What other sociology texts may have had similar ideas? Webb obviously quotes some of this technique in the late 1800s as being popular within the area of history. How evenly was it spread across the humanities in general?
Is Beatrice Webb's card index amongst her papers? Where might they be stored today?
For a highly elaborated and skilled processof “ making notes ”, besides its obvious use in recording observationswhich would otherwise be forgotten, is actually an instrument of dis¬covery.
Beatrice Webb sees the primary uses of notes as a memory device and a discovery device.
This process serves a similar purpose in sociology to that of theblow-pipe and the balance in chemistry, or the prism and the electro¬scope in physics. That is to say, it enables the scientific worker to breakup his subject-matter, so as to isolate and examine at his leisure itsvarious component parts, and to recombine them in new and experi¬mental groupings in order to discover which sequences of events have acausal significance
Beatrice Webb analogized the card index (or note taking using slips of paper) as serving the function of a scientific tool for sociologists the way that chemists use blow pipes and balances or physicists use the prism or electroscope. These tools all help the researcher examine small constituent parts and then situate them in other orderings to provide insight into the subject areas.
- note taking affordances
- flat files
- research programs
- graduate school
- scientific note taking
- tools for thought
- card index as discovery
- computer science
- note taking
- note taking methods
- card index as memory
- intellectual history
- edge-notched cards
- Industrial Democracy (book)
- Herman Hollerith
- punched cards
- English Poor Law Policy
- Eviction Lab
- card index as database
- card index
- principles of 1834
- scientific instruments
- Beatrice Webb
- zettelkasten origin myth
- Niklas Luhmann
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- Joseph Marie Jacquard
- natural experiments
- Basile Bouchon
Observing the wider world, Beatrice wrote of "Russian communism and Italian Fascism" as "two sides of the worship of force and the practice of cruel intolerance" and she was disturbed that "this spirit is creeping into the USA and even ... into Great Britain."
via Muggeridge and Adam, Beatrice Webb: A Life, 1967, p.225.
Martha Beatrice Webb, Baroness Passfield, FBA (née Potter; 22 January 1858 – 30 April 1943) was an English sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer. It was Webb who coined the term collective bargaining. She was among the founders of the London School of Economics and played a crucial role in forming the Fabian Society.
Langlois, Charles Victor, and Charles Seignobos. Introduction to the Study of History. Translated by George Godfrey Berry. First. New York: Henry Holt and company, 1898. http://archive.org/details/cu31924027810286.
Suggested by footnote in Beatrice Webb's My Apprenticeship.
Beatrice Webb, the famous sociologist and political activist, reported in 1926: "'Every one agrees nowadays', observe the most noted French writers on the study of history, 'that it is advisable to collect materials on separate cards or slips of paper. . . . The advantages of this artifice are obvious; the detachability of the slips enables us to group them at will in a host of different combinations; if necessary, to change their places; it is easy to bring texts of the same kind together, and to incorporate additions, as they are acquired, in the interior of the groups to which they belong.'" 
Webb 1926, p. 363. The number of scholars who have used the index card method is legion, especially in sociology and anthropology, but also in many other subjects. Claude Lévy-Strauss learned their use from Marcel Mauss and others, Roland Barthes used them, Charles Sanders Peirce relied on them, and William Van Orman Quine wrote his lectures on them, etc.
- Apr 2022
- Dec 2021
Bibliographical notes which we extract from the literature, should be captured inside the card index. Books, articles, etc., which we have actually read, should be put on a separate slip with bibliographical information in a separate box.
Ross Ashby's note taking system, also within the field of systems theory, shows the use of an index card set up for bibliographical notes, however in Ashby's case, the primary notes were placed into notebooks and not onto note cards.
Was there an ancestral link within the systems theory community that was spreading these ideas of note taking or were they (more likely) just so ubiquitous in the academic culture that such a link wouldn't have mattered?
(Earlier ancestors like Beatrice Webb may have been a more influential link.)
- Aug 2021
In writing my dissertation and working on my first book, I used an index card system, characterized by the "one fact, one card" maxim, made popular by Beatrice Webb. 
I've not come across Beatrice Webb before, but I'm curious to see what her system looks like based on this statement.
From the footnotes:
She observed in the appendix to her My Apprenticeship of 1926, called The Art of Note-Taking: "It is difficult to persuade the accomplished graduate of Oxford or Cambridge that an indispensable instrument in the technique of sociological enquiry - seeing that without it any of the methods of acquiring facts can seldom be used effectively - is the making of notes" Webb, Beatrice (1926) My Apprenticeship (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.), pp. 426-7.