- Last 7 days
The last element in his file system was an index, from which hewould refer to one or two notes that would serve as a kind of entrypoint into a line of thought or topic.
Indices are certainly an old construct. One of the oldest structured examples in the note taking space is that of John Locke who detailed it in Méthode nouvelle de dresser des recueils (1685), later translated into English as A New Method of Organizing Common Place Books (1706).
Previously commonplace books had been structured with headwords done alphabetically. This meant starting with a preconceived structure and leaving blank or empty space ahead of time without prior knowledge of what would fill it or how long that might take. By turning that system on its head, one could fill a notebook from front to back with a specific index of the headwords at the end. Then one didn't need to do the same amount of pre-planning or gymnastics over time with respect to where to put their notes.
This idea combined with that of Konrad Gessner's design for being able to re-arrange slips of paper (which later became index cards based on an idea by Carl Linnaeus), gives us an awful lot of freedom and flexibility in almost any note taking system.
Building blocks of the note taking system
- atomic ideas
- written on (re-arrangeable) slips, cards, or hypertext spaces
- cross linked with each other
- cross linked with an index
- cross linked with references
are there others? should they be broken up differently?
Godfathers of Notetaking
- Aristotle, Cicero (commonplaces)
- Seneca the Younger (collecting and reusing)
- Raymond Llull (combinatorial rearrangements)
- Konrad Gessner (storage for re-arrangeable slips)
- John Locke (indices)
- Carl Linnaeus (index cards)
- Apr 2022
Conrad Gesner, for example, observed in his editionof Stobaeus: “I ask you, who of the learned doesn’t either take commonplacenotes or wish they did from their daily reading on moral matters?”1
Even as he was critical of overabundance, Gesner exulted in it, seeking exhaustiveness in his accumulation of both themes and works from which others could choose according to their judgment and interests.
Note here the presumed freedom to pick and choose based on interest and judgement. Who's judgement really? Book banning and religious battles would call to question which people got to exercise their own judgement.
Citing Pliny’s “no book so bad,” Gesner made a point of accumulating information about all the texts he could learn about, barbarian and Christian, in manuscript and in print, extant and not, without separating the good from the bad: “We only wanted to list them, and we have left to others free selection and judgment.”202
- Konrad Gessner
- separating the wheat from the chaff
- commonplace books
- diversity equity and inclusion
- Pandectarum sive Partitionum Universalium
- information overload
- institutional power
- note taking
- history of reading
- institutional racism
- Feb 2022
Rozier chances upon the labor-saving idea of producing catalogs according to Gessner ’ s procedures — that is, transferring titles onto one side of a piece of paper before copying them into tabular form. Yet he optimizes this process by dint of a small refi nement, with regard to the paper itself: instead of copying data onto specially cut octavo sheets, he uses uniformly and precisely cut paper whose ordinary purpose obeys the contingent pleasure of being shuffl ed, ordered, and exchanged: “ cartes à jouer. ” 35 In sticking strictly to the playing card sizes available in prerevolutionary France (either 83 × 43 mm or 70 × 43 mm), Rozier cast his bibliographical specifi cations into a standardized and therefore easily handled format.
Abbé François Rozier cleverly transferred book titles onto the blank side of French playing cards instead of cut octavo sheets as a means of indexing after being appointed in 1775 to index the holdings of the Académie des Sciences in Paris.
- Jan 2022
Generally speaking, his mode of referencing — developed in the 1950s! — make use of an idea thatwould later become the common technology of “hyperlinks” in the computer age. Luhmann himself calledhis system of references a “web-like system.”16 The metaphor of the web also suggests interpreting it alongnetwork-theoretical lines.17
This so-called link to computer science and prefiguring the internet is a bit too credulous here. Vannevar Bush prefigured the idea in 1945, but one can look back further to Konrad Gessner centuries before to make the same connections.
GESNER, Conrad (1516-65). Pandectarum sive Partitionum universalium libri XXI. Zurich: Christoph Froschauer, 1548. Price realised USD 19,200EstimateUSD 3,500 - USD 4,500 Estimates do not reflect the final hammer price and do not include buyer's premium, and applicable taxes or artist's resale right. Please see Section D of the Conditions of Sale for full details.Closed: 20 Mar 2005
But this is not the main reason. The other three programs try to achieve the connection or linking between different topics or cards (mainly) by assigning keywords. But this is not what Luhmann's approach recommended. While he did have a register of keywords, this was certainly not the most important way of interconnecting his slips. He linked them by direct references (Verweisungen). Any slip could refer directly to the physical and unchanging location of any other slip.
Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten had three different forms of links.
- The traditional keyword index/link from the commonplace book tradition
- A parent/child link upon first placing the idea into the system (except when starting a new top level parent)
- A direct link (Verweisungen) to one or more ideas already in the index card catalog.
Many note taking systems are relying on the older commonplace book taxonomies and neglect or forego both of the other two sorts of links. While the second can be safely subsumed as a custom, one-time version of the third, the third version is the sort of link which helps to create a lot of direct value within a note taking system as the generic links between broader topic heading names can be washed out over time as the system grows.
Was this last link type included in Konrad Gessner's version? If not, at what point in time did this more specific direct link evolve?
- Dec 2021
Luhmann, for sure, had little (if any) awareness of this long tradition. His excerpting habits should not be regarded as a result of cultural inheritance. A direct contact with early modern excerpting systems is not demonstrable, and Luhmann himself never once mentioned them in his publications.
Alberto Cevolini argues that Niklas Luhmann was unaware of the prior tradition of excerpting, however even his complex numbering system shows incredibly high similarity to the numbering system of houses used in 1770 Vienna near the time at which Konrad Gessner delineated his note taking system which also used excerpting.
cross reference Markus Krajewski in Paper Machines, chapter 3, page 28:
By 1777, the government of Lower Austria starts a renewed numbering of houses. “ As many new houses were built after the last conscription which have no number yet, this is also an opportunity for the rectification of the house numbers.” New entries are to be treated as follows: “If for instance three new houses are found between numbers 12 and 13, the first is to be 12a, the second 12b, the third 12c.”
Given this evidence, it's more likely that Luhmann was taught this system, he researched it, or perhaps like the broader ideas, it was floating around so heavily in the culture of his time and place from centuries earlier that it was simply a natural fit. More evidence about the prevalence for street numbering may be needed from his time period to know how common this general numbering system was.
All this bears little resemblance to modern literary ideals, in which the author is constructed somewhat heroically as an individual creative source.
This is broadly true in the early West, but becomes far more prevalent after the time of Konrad Gessner (1516 - 1565) whose work coincided with the explosion of information following the use of moveable type in Europe.
It is an important fact that the Bibliotheca Universalis addresses a dual audience with this technology of indexing: on the one hand, it aims at librarians with its extensive and far-reaching bibliography; on the other hand, it goes to didactic lengths to instruct young scholars in the proper organization of their studies, that is, keeping excerpted material in useful order. In this dual aim, the Bibliotheca Universalis unites a scholar ’ s com-munication with library technology, before these directions eventually branch out into the activity of library professionals on the one hand and the private and discreet practices of scholarship on the other hand
Konrad Gessner's Bibliotheca Universalis has two audiences: librarians for it's extensive bibliography and scholars for the instruction of how to properly organize their studies by excerpting material and keeping it in a useful order.
This “ method of generating indexes in the shortest time and in the best order ” 31 is the earliest explicit description of how to store what one has read and found worth keeping, arranging it in different ways, and keeping it thematically retrievable.
Gessner 1548, fol. 19, translated in Zedelmaier 1992, p. 103.
Behind this order of paper slips that guarantees mobility and rearrange-ment, one can recognize the same economy of signs that a century earlier contributes to a major paradigmatic shift. Johannes Gutenberg ’ s invention of the printing press not only forges most obviously associations of typeset-ting, steel models, pouring mechanisms for individual letter types, special alloys, and composing sticks for setting lines of type. 28
Much the same way printing was automated with Johannes Gutenberg's moveable type invention, the writing of longer pieces may be automated with moveable ideas. Ideas written down on slips (index cards) can be moved around easily and re-used as necessary in composing longer articles.