- Sep 2022
Many know from their own experience how uncontrollable and irretrievable the oftenvaluable notes and chains of thought are in note books and in the cabinets they are stored in
Heyde indicates how "valuable notes and chains of thought are" but also points out "how uncontrollable and irretrievable" they are.
This statement is strong evidence along with others in this chapter which may have inspired Niklas Luhmann to invent his iteration of the zettelkasten method of excerpting and making notes.
(link to: Clemens /Heyde and Luhmann timeline: https://hypothes.is/a/4wxHdDqeEe2OKGMHXDKezA)
Presumably he may have either heard or seen others talking about or using these general methods either during his undergraduate or law school experiences. Even with some scant experience, this line may have struck him significantly as an organization barrier of earlier methods.
Why have notes strewn about in a box or notebook as Heyde says? Why spend the time indexing everything and then needing to search for it later? Why not take the time to actively place new ideas into one's box as close as possibly to ideas they directly relate to?
But how do we manage this in a findable way? Since we can't index ideas based on tabs in a notebook or even notebook page numbers, we need to have some sort of handle on where ideas are in slips within our box. The development of European card catalog systems had started in the late 1700s, and further refinements of Melvil Dewey as well as standardization had come about by the early to mid 1900s. One could have used the Dewey Decimal System to index their notes using smaller decimals to infinitely intersperse cards on a growing basis.
But Niklas Luhmann had gone to law school and spent time in civil administration. He would have been aware of aktenzeichen file numbers used in German law/court settings and public administration. He seems to have used a simplified version of this sort of filing system as the base of his numbering system. And why not? He would have likely been intimately familiar with its use and application, so why not adopt it or a simplified version of it for his use? Because it's extensible in a a branching tree fashion, one can add an infinite number of cards or files into the midst of a preexisting collection. And isn't this just the function aktenzeichen file numbers served within the German court system? Incidentally these file numbers began use around 1932, but were likely heavily influenced by the Austrian conscription numbers and house numbers of the late 1770s which also influenced library card cataloging numbers, so the whole system comes right back around. (Ref Krajewski here).
(Cross reference/ see: https://hypothes.is/a/CqGhGvchEey6heekrEJ9WA
Other pieces he may have been attempting to get around include the excessive work of additional copying involved in this piece as well as a lot of the additional work of indexing.
One will note that Luhmann's index was much more sparse than without his methods. Often in books, a reader will find a reference or two in an index and then go right to the spot they need and read around it. Luhmann did exactly this in his sequence of cards. An index entry or two would send him to the general local and sifting through a handful of cards would place him in the correct vicinity. This results in a slight increase in time for some searches, but it pays off in massive savings of time of not needing to cross index everything onto cards as one goes, and it also dramatically increases the probability that one will serendipitously review over related cards and potentially generate new insights and links for new ideas going into one's slip box.
- Aug 2022
By my own experiences when I used the alphabetical system, I came to the conclusion thatfor the researcher’s sheet box an alphabetical system is more advantageous.
We find here juxtaposed the suggestion to use an alphabetic indexing system and that of the Dewey Decimal System with the specific mention that one is grouping cards with similar related ideas.
Did Luhmann evolve his system out of these two ideas and instead of using Dewey, as was apparently not common in Germany, he used a version of the Aktenzeichen ("file numbers") stemming from the 1770s conscription numbers from Vienna?
- Jul 2022
The numbers themselves have also been a source ofdebate. Some digital users identify a new notechronologically. One I made right now, for example,might be numbered “202207201003”, which would beunique in my system, provided I don’t make another thisminute. The advantage of this system is that I could keeptrack of when I had particular ideas, which might comein handy sometime in the future. The disadvantage is thatthe number doesn’t convey any additional information,and it doesn’t allow me to choose where to insert a newnote “behind” the existing note it is most closely relatedto.
Allosso points out some useful critiques of numbering systems, but doesn't seem to get to the two core ideas that underpin them (and let's be honest, most other sources don't either). As a result most of the controversies are based on a variety of opinions from users, many of whom don't have long enough term practices to see the potential value.
The important things about numbers (or even titles) within zettelkasten or even commonplace book systems is that they be unique to immediately and irrevocably identify ideas within a system.
The other important piece is that ideas be linked to at least one other idea, so they're less likely to get lost.
Once these are dealt with there's little other controversy to be had.
The issue with date/time-stamped numbering systems in digital contexts is that users make notes using them, but wholly fail to link them to anything much less one other idea within their system, thus creating orphaned ideas. (This is fine in the early days, but ultimately one should strive to have nothing orphaned).
The benefit of Luhmann's analog method was that by putting one idea behind its most closely related idea was that it immediately created that minimum of one link (to the thing it sits behind). It's only at this point once it's situated that it can be given it's unique number (and not before).
Luhmann's numbering system, similar to those seen in Viennese contexts for conscription numbers/house numbers and early library call numbers, allows one to infinitely add new ideas to a pre-existing set no matter how packed the collection may become. This idea is very similar to the idea of dense sets in mathematics settings in which one can get arbitrarily close to any member of a set.
- Jun 2022
Das gerichtliche Aktenzeichen dient der Kennzeichnung eines Dokuments und geht auf die Aktenordnung (AktO) vom 28. November 1934 und ihre Vorgänger zurück.
The court file number is used to identify a document and goes back to the file regulations (AktO) of November 28, 1934 and its predecessors.
The German "file number" (aktenzeichen) is a unique identification of a file, commonly used in their court system and predecessors as well as file numbers in public administration since at least 1934.
Niklas Luhmann studied law at the University of Freiburg from 1946 to 1949, when he obtained a law degree, before beginning a career in Lüneburg's public administration where he stayed in civil service until 1962. Given this fact, it's very likely that Luhmann had in-depth experience with these sorts of file numbers as location identifiers for files and documents.
We know these numbering methods in public administration date back to as early as Vienna, Austria in the 1770s.
The missing piece now is who/where did Luhmann learn his note taking and excerpting practice from? Alberto Cevolini argues that Niklas Luhmann was unaware of the prior tradition of excerpting, though note taking on index cards or slips had been commonplace in academic circles for quite some time and would have been reasonably commonplace during his student years.
Are there handbooks, guides, or manuals in the early 1900's that detail these sorts of note taking practices?
Perhaps something along the lines of Antonin Sertillanges’ book The Intellectual Life (1921) or Paul Chavigny's Organisation du travail intellectuel: recettes pratiques à l’usage des étudiants de toutes les facultés et de tous les travailleurs (in French) (Delagrave, 1918)?
Further recall that Bruno Winck has linked some of the note taking using index cards to legal studies to Roland Claude's 1961 text:
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 Luhmann 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 Luhmann system seems easier to maintain but very near.
<small><cite class='h-cite via'>ᔥ <span class='p-author h-card'> Scott P. Scheper </span> in Scott P. Scheper on Twitter: "The origins of the Zettelkasten's numeric-alpha card addresses seem to derive from Niklas Luhmann's early work as a legal clerk. The filing scheme used is called "Aktenzeichen" - See https://t.co/4mQklgSG5u. cc @ChrisAldrich" / Twitter (<time class='dt-published'>06/28/2022 11:29:18</time>)</cite></small>
- Paul Chavigny
- law school
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- Roland Claude
- conscription numbers
- numbering systems
- note taking
- house numbers
- public administration
- Antonin Sertillanges
- Niklas Luhmann
- Feb 2022
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 rectifi cation 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 fi rst is to be 12a, the second 12b, the third 12c. ” 7 Moreover, the conscription decree further increases the depth of addressing, including “ women, Jews, and farm animals. ”
Starting with a decree by Her Majesty Maria Theresa on December 24, 1770 to create conscription numbers on Viennese houses and expanded in 1777, the government of Lower Austria created a number system to identify all houses as well as to men, women, Jews, and farm animals. Because new houses had been built since the beginning of the system houses built between whole numbered houses were assigned address including the whole number along with an alphabetic letter a, b, c, and so on depending on the number of new spaces.
It can't escape one's notice that this is substantially similar to the numbering system which Niklas Luhmann used for his zettelkasten.
For a comprehensive history of conscription and house numbers in Europe, see Tantner 2007a,b.