- Apr 2022
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.
In a remarkable essay on precursors to hypertext, Peter Krapp(2006) provides a useful overview of the development of the indexcard and its use by various thinkers, including Locke, Leibniz, Hegel,and Wittgenstein, as well as by those known to Barthes and part of asimilar intellectual milieu, including Michel Leiris, Georges Perec,and Claude Lévi-Strauss (Krapp, 2006: 360-362; Sieburth, 2005).1
Peter Krapp created a list of thinkers including Locke, Leibniz, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Barthes, Michel Leiris, Georges Perec, and Lévi-Strauss who used index cards in his essay Hypertext Avant La Lettre on the precursors of hypertext.
see also: Krapp, P. (2006) ‘Hypertext Avant La Lettre’, in W. H. K. Chun & T. Keenan (eds), New Media, Old Theory: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge: 359-373.
Notice that Krapp was the translator of Paper Machines About Cards & Catalogs, 1548 – 1929 (MIT Press, 2011) by Marcus Krajewski. Which was writing about hypertext and index cards first? Or did they simply influence each other?
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Michel Leiris
- Marcus Krajewski
- paper machines
- index cards
- Roland Barthes
- Georges Perec
- Peter Krapp
- Georg Hegel
- Jan 2022
Hi Chris, I checked Chavigny’s book on the BNF site. He insists on the use of index cards (‘fiches’), how to index them, one idea per card but not how to connect between the cards and allow navigation between them. Mind that it’s written in 1919, in Strasbourg (my hometown) just one year after it returned to France. So between students who used this book and Luhman in Freiburg it’s not far away. My mother taught me how to use cards for my studies back in 1977, I still have the book where she learn the method, as Law student in Strasbourg “Comment se documenter”, by Roland Claude, 1961. Page 25 describes a way to build secondary index to receive all cards relatives to a topic by their number. Still Luhman system seems easier to maintain but very near. I’m not a fan of ZK myself. It was great before computers and Internet but it’s a lot of work and adds a lot of friction.
Reminder to look up Roland Claude. I couldn't find his work in the usual spaces in English or French.