Analyzes the differences in consciousness between oral and literate societies and points out the intellectual, literary, and social effects of writing
It is in excellent shape, though missing a dust jacket and has the attendant portions of an ex-library copy (Widener University). The ex-library features bring me great joy though because its got some reasonable evidence of prior readers in the form of marginalia in at least six different hands as well as two different languages (English and Chinese). I can’t wait to add my own to the growing list.
Three of the four sections are all similarly made out of oak and appear to be co-contemporaneous in terms of style and materials (solid wood and metal). The final section, a five drawer insert is obviously of later manufacture and while stained brown with what appears to potentially be a mahogany frontispiece, has plastic trays with metal fittings and what appear to be galvanized steel card stops. The other sections comprise a low level table-like support with four legs; a 5×3 drawer section; and a 2 inch thick top which covers the holes in the top of the modular drawer sections and provides a flat surface. The top section also features the traditional Gaylord Bros., Inc. name plate.
Given the subtle intricacies of the construction, I’ll provide some photos of how the pieces dovetail together as well as the smaller mechanics and features in a future post.
Fully assembled the piece is 33″ wide x 17 3/8″ deep and stands 36 1/2″ tall. With internal drawer space of 13 3/4″ for the 15 drawers and 14 1/2″ for the other 5, there should be space for approximately 38,715 index cards.
I’m thrilled that all the fittings seem to be original, and all the drawers have their original card catalog rods. The drawers on the 5×3 drawer section have a spring loaded mechanism under the front of the drawer which when pushed to the left side unlocks the card catalog rods which have beefy brass knobs. The 5×1 drawer section rods are unlocked by pulling up on them slightly from the bottom and then pulling them straight out.
I’ll have to do some more in-depth research of old Gaylord Bros. catalogs, but based on materials, manufacture, and style, I’m going to guess that the older portion of the card catalog dates from the mid-30s to the 1940s, while the newer section is likely late 60s. The overall size and standardized, modular structure allows the pieces to sit together in quite a clever way and were made over a long enough period of time that different pieces from disparate decades still work well together. While the wood grain, stain, and even fittings are all slightly different, the to different styles work fairly well together.
For those who appreciated my recent article Market analysis of library card catalogs in 2023, I’m thrilled to report that I purchased this stunning beauty—one of the prettiest, oldest, and best conditioned catalogs I’ve seen listed—for a very reasonable $250. I suspect the seller, who is a vintage collector, seasoned eBay seller, and is well aware of the market, may have gone even lower, but I was happy to overpay a little. Given the online market, something like this would usually list for between $1,200 and $1,600, but would likely sit unsold and unloved for years.
I love the style and the condition, and it does make for a fantastic little piece of fine furniture with a lovely patina. Unexpectedly, someone else in the house may be even more enamored of it than I, which bodes well for its actual long term care and use. Currently it will serve as an archive storage for some of my 3 x 5″ index card note collection in addition to storage of a partial library card cataloging for some of our physical books. I also have cards from an older rolodex and a small recipe collection that will take up residence. Other empty drawers will house a small wine selection along with several bottles of scotch until they’re pushed out by the growing collection of cards.
Other than general maintenance I don’t think I’ll be doing any other restoration work on it beyond the small fixes I’ve already made.
On the top of the catalog, in addition to space for writing notes, I’ll keep one of my two desktop card indexes and a 1948 Smith-Corona Clipper.
What would you do with a library card catalog?
Of specific “note” is the fact that Aby Warburg (1866-1929) had a significant zettelkasten-based note taking practice and portions of his collection (both written as well as images) are featured within the hour long documentary. You’ll see it in the opening scenes in the background during many of the interviews, but there’s also a portion featured at the 30 minute mark which looks at a few of his zettels. Like several other zettelkasten practitioners he had a significant zettelkasten practice but did not publish much, but did lecture quite a lot and had outsized influence both during his life as well as posthumously and his zettelkasten and research remain as an archive for scholars who still study and extend his work.
Sadly, I’m unable to catch any screenshots from the film due to technical glitches, but if folks can figure out how to pull some out, I’d appreciate them.
Aby Warburg’s extant zettelkasten at the Warburg Institute’s Archive consists of ninety-six surviving boxes (of 104 or possibly more) which contain between 200-800 individually numbered index cards. Dividers and envelopes are used within the boxes to separate the cards into thematic sections.
The digitized version is transcribed in the original German and is not available translated into English (at least as of 2023). The digitized version maintains the structure of the dividers and consists of only about 3,200 items. It can be searched at https://wi-calm.sas.ac.uk/CalmView/Aboutcatalogue.aspx. As examples one can find the record for box 4a on “the Renaissance” at https://wi-calm.sas.ac.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=WIA+III.2.1.+ZK%2f4a&pos=1 and the physical divider inside box 4a for “Jakob Burkhardt” with subsections listed at https://wi-calm.sas.ac.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=WIA+III.2.1.+ZK%2f4a%2f2&pos=1
The Warburg Institute archive had this sample photo of some of his decorative/colorful boxes:
Has anyone visited the Warburg archive in London before?
Originally published on April 20, 2023 at 01:42AM
Wilson Memindex Co., Rochester, NY
It was fascinating to run across the Memindex, a productivity tool from the Wilson Memindex Co., advertised in a December 1906 issue of System: The Magazine of Business. Memindex seems to be an obvious portmanteau of the words memory and index.
Let YOUR MIND GO FREE
Do not tax your brain trying to remember. Get the MEMINDEX HABIT and you can FORGET WITH IMPUNITY. An ideal reminder and handy system for keeping all memoranda where they will appear at the right time. Saves time, money, opportunity. A brain saver. No other device answers its purpose. A Great Help for Busy Men, Used and recommended by Bankers, Manufacturers, Salesmen, Lawyers, Doctors, Merchants, Insurance Men, Architects, Educators, Contractors, Railway Managers Engineers, Ministers, etc., all over the world. Order now and get ready to Begin the New Year Right. Rest of ’06 free with each outfit. Express prepaid on receipt of price. Personal checks accepted.
Also a valuable card index for desk use. Dated cards from tray are carried in the handy pocket case, 2 to 4 weeks at a time. To-day’s card always at the front. No leaves to turn. Helps you to PLAN YOUR WORK WORK YOUR PLAN ACCOMPLISH MORE You need it. Three years’ sales show that most all business and professional men need it. GET IT NOW. WILSON MEMINDEX CO. 93 Mills St., Rochester, N. Y.
Early Computer Science Influence?
The Memindex product appears several decades prior to Vannevar Bush’s “coinage” of memex in As We May Think (The Atlantic, July 1945). While many credit Bush for an early instantiation of the internet using the model of a desk, microfiche, and a filing system, almost all of these moving parts had already existed in late 19th century networked office furniture and were just waiting for automation and computerization. The primary difference in this Memindex card system and Bush’s Memex is the higher information density made available through the use of microfiche. Now it turns out his coinage of memex appears to have been in the zeitgeist decades prior as well. I’ve got evidence that the Wilson Memindex was sold well into the early 1950s. (My current dating is to 1952, though later examples may exist.) Below I’ve pictured some cards from the same year as Bush’s now famous piece in the Atlantic.
Most people are more familiar with the popular 20th century magazine System than they realize. Created and published by A. W Shaw, one of the partners of Shaw-Walker, a major manufacturer of office furniture in the early 20th century, the popular magazine was sold to McGraw-Hill Company in 1927/8 and renamed Businessweek which was later sold again and renamed Bloomberg Businessweek.
Relationship to other modern productivity methods
Some will certainly see close ties of this early product to the idea of the “hipster PDA” or Hawk Sugano’s Pile of Index Cards which appeared in 2006. It also doesn’t take much imagination for one to look at the back of a Wilson Memindex envelope from 1909 or an ad from the 1930s to see the similarity to the 43 folders system, bits of Getting Things Done (GTD), or the Bullet Journal methods in common use today. The 1909 envelope also appears to combine a predecessor to the 43 folders idea mixed with the hipster PDA in a coherent pocket and desk-based system.
With alphabetic tabs for the desktop version, one could easily have used this for “Building a Second Brain” as described by modern productivity gurus who almost exclusively suggest digital tools for maintaining their systems now. The 1909 envelop specifically recommends using the system as “comprehensive card index” which is essentially what most second brain or zettelkasten systems are, though there is a broad disconnect between some of this and the reimagining of the zettelkasten in current craze for using Niklas Luhmann-esque organization methods which have some different aims.
What’s interesting beyond the similarities of the systems is the means by which they were sold and spread. Older systems like the Memindex or related general office filing and indexing systems (Shaw-Walker), were primarily selling physical products/hardware like boxes, filing cabinets, holders, cards, and dividers as much as they were selling a process or idea. Mid- and late-century companies like Day-Timer or FranklinCovey also sold physical stationery products (calendars, planners, boxes, binders, books, ) but also began more heavily selling ideas like “productivity” and “leadership”. Modern productivity gurus are generally selling the ideas of the systems and making their money not on the physical items, software or programs which implement them, but with consulting fees, class fees, subscriptions, books which describe their systems, or even advertising against page or video views.
The 1906 version of the Memindex was popular enough to already be offered with the following options of materials for the distinguishing tastes of consumers:
- Cowhide Seal Leather Case and hardwood tray
- Am. Russia Leather Case and plain oak tray
- Genuine Morocco Case and quartered oak tray
What options is your current productivity guru or system offering? What are the differentiations and affordances it’s offering compared to similar systems in the early 1900s? Where is the “rich Corinthian leather“?
The Memindex Method
The basic Memindex method consists of using 2 3/4″ x 4 1/2″ (vest pocket sized) or 3 x 5 1/2″ cards depending on one’s size preference to jot down to do lists or tickler items on individually dated cards which are kept in a desk-based wooden card index with tabs for both months as well as alphabetic tabs in some systems. One then keeps a small pocket-sized card holder with the coming three weeks’ worth of cards on their person for active daily use and files them away as the days go by.
Apparently the truism “everything old is new again” is true yet again.
This week John Borthwick put out a call for Tools for Thinking: People want better tools for thinking — ones that take the mass of notes that you have and organize them, that help extend your second brain into a knowledge or interest graph and that enable open sharing and ownership of the “knowl...
I’ll always maintain that Vannevar Bush really harmed the first few generations of web development by not mentioning the word commonplace book in his conceptualization. Marks heals some of this wound by explicitly tying the idea of memex to that of the zettelkasten however. John Borthwick even mentions the idea of “networked commonplace books”. [I suspect a little birdie may have nudged this perspective as catnip to grab my attention—a ruse which is highly effective.]
Some of Kevin’s conceptualization reminds me a bit of Jerry Michalski’s use of The Brain which provides a specific visual branching of ideas based on the links and their positions on the page: the main idea in the center, parent ideas above it, sibling ideas to the right/left and child ideas below it. I don’t think it’s got the idea of incoming or outgoing links, but having a visual location on the page for incoming links (my own site has incoming ones at the bottom as comments or responses) can be valuable.
I’m also reminded a bit of Kartik Prabhu’s experiments with marginalia and webmention on his website which plays around with these ideas as well as their visual placement on the page in different methods.
It also seems a bit reminiscent of Kevin Mark’s experiments with hovercards in the past as well, which might be an interesting way to do the outgoing links part.
Next up, I’d love to see larger branching visualizations of these sorts of things across multiple sites… Who will show us those “associative trails”?
Another potential framing for what we’re all really doing is building digital versions of Indigenous Australian’s songlines across the web. Perhaps this may help realize Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly’s dream for a “third archive”?
Piotr Wozniak has some material on creating/designing more concrete cards for spaced repetition that I’ve found generally helpful. I know that Andy Matuschak and Soren Bjornstad have some ideas, experience, and research in the space but I’ve yet to see more deep research on the effectiveness of these more specific practices at scale or beyond the anecdotal.
A trained astrophysicist, Dr Duane Hamacher is a lecturer in the Nura Gili Indigenous Centre at the University of New South Wales. After studying planets orbiting other stars for two years, his interest in the crossroads of science and culture was too great and he decided to complete a PhD in Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University. He researches in how navigating the boundaries between Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science can show how these ways of understanding the natural world are beneficial to both.
I’m personally interested in reading/learning about these areas above and beyond the primary education levels which are presented here.
The Folkton Drums. Three cylinders carved from chalk about 5,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Decorated with geometric designs and stylised faces. Discovered, along with a bone pin, in a child’s round barrow (burial) in Yorkshire in 1889. #FindsFriday #Archaeology https://t.co/6IyUTN9bCt— Alison Fisk (@AlisonFisk) Dec 10, 2021
It is far from the only source to exhibit this “oddity”. Biblical references from the time of King David exist as well as in Neolithic archaeology.
I’m increasingly confident of a hidden meaning here of which Western culture is unaware (it having been long forgotten) and which is likely that Indigenous peoples may have forgotten (read: had ripped and stolen from their identities during colonialization).
References to this lost knowledge in oral and written sources still remain as evidence of my theory: “communication” or “conversations” with rocks was literally a “bedrock” cultural knowledge underpinning many human cultures and ways of life for millennia.
I’ll define this “communication” more fully shortly as I continue to collect examples in the literature as well as examples in archaeological contexts.
I’d welcome other references from others should they come across them in any contexts.
Six years ago we put our daughter into a dual immersion Japanese program (in the United States) and it has changed some of my view of how we teach and learn languages, a process which is also affected by my slowly picking up conversational Welsh using the method at https://www.saysomethingin.com/ over the past year and change, a hobby which I wish I had more targeted time for.
Children learn language through a process of contextual use and osmosis which is much more difficult for adults. I’ve found that the slowly guided method used by SSiW is fairly close to this method, but is much more targeted. They’ll say a few words in the target language and give their English equivalents, then they’ll provide phrases and eventually sentences in English and give you a few seconds to form them into the target language with the expectation that you try to say at least something, or pause the program to do your best. It’s okay if you mess up even repeatedly, they’ll say the correct phrase/sentence two times after which you’ll repeat it again thus giving you three tries at it. They’ll also repeat bits from one lesson to the next, so you’ll eventually get it, the key is not to worry too much about perfection.
Things slowly build using this method, but in even about 10 thirty minute lessons, you’ll have a pretty strong grasp of fluent conversational Welsh equivalent to a year or two of college level coursework. Your work on this is best supplemented with interacting with native speakers and/or watching television or reading in the target language as much as you’re able to.
For those who haven’t experienced it before I’d recommend trying out the method at https://www.saysomethingin.com/welsh/course1/intro to hear it firsthand.
The experience will give your brain a heavy work out and you’ll feel mentally tired after thirty minutes of work, but it does seem to be incredibly effective. A side benefit is that over time you’ll also build up a “gut feeling” about what to say and how without realizing it. This is something that’s incredibly hard to get in most university-based or book-based language courses.
This method will give you quicker grammar acquisition and you’ll speak more like a native, but your vocabulary acquisition will tend to be slower and you don’t get any writing or spelling practice. This can be offset with targeted memory techniques and spaced repetition/flashcards or apps like Duolingo that may help supplement one’s work.
I like some of the suggestions made in Lynne Kelly’s post about Chinese as I’ve been pecking away at bits of Japanese over time myself. There’s definitely an interesting structure to what’s going on, especially with respect to the kana and there are many similarities to what is happening in Japanese to the Chinese that she’s studying. I’m also approaching it from a more traditional university/book-based perspective, but if folks have seen or heard of a SSiW repetition method, I’d love to hear about it.
Hopefully helpful by comparison, I’ll mention a few resources I’ve found for Japanese that I’ve researched on setting out a similar path that Lynne seems to be moving.
Japanese has two different, but related alphabets and using an app like Duolingo with regular practice over less than a week will give one enough experience that trying to use traditional memory techniques may end up wasting more time than saving, especially if one expects to be practicing regularly in both the near and the long term. If you’re learning without the expectation of actively speaking, writing, or practicing the language from time to time, then wholesale mnemotechniques may be the easier path, but who really wants to learn a language like this?
The tougher portion of Japanese may come in memorizing the thousands of kanji which can have subtly different meanings. It helps to know that there are a limited set of specific radicals with a reasonably delineable structure of increasing complexity of strokes and stroke order.
The best visualization I’ve found for this fact is the Complete Listing of the 214 Radicals and Major Variations from An Introduction to Japanese Kanji Calligraphy by Kunii Takezaki (Tuttle, 2005) which I copy below:
(Feel free to right click and view the image in another tab or download it and view it full size to see more detail.)
I’ve not seen such a chart in any of the dozens of other books I’ve come across. The numbered structure of increasing complexity of strokes here would certainly suggest an easier to build memory palace or songline.
I love this particular text as it provides an excellent overview of what is structurally happening in Japanese with lots of tidbits that are otherwise much harder won in reading other books.
There are many kanji books with various forms of what I would call very low level mnemonic aids. I’ve not found one written or structured by what I would consider a professional mnemonist. One of the best structured ones I’ve seen is A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshall (Tuttle, 1988). It’s got some great introductory material and then a numbered list of kanji which would suggest the creation of a quite long memory palace/journey/songline.
Each numbered Kanji has most of the relevant data and readings, but provides some description about how the kanji relates or links to other words of similar shapes/meanings and provides a mnemonic hint to make placing it in one’s palace a bit easier. Below is an example of the sixth which will give an idea as to the overall structure.
I haven’t gotten very far into it yet, but I’d found an online app called WaniKani for Japanese that has some mnemonic suggestions and built-in spaced repetition that looks incredibly promising for taking small radicals and building them up into more easily remembered complex kanji.
I suspect that there are likely similar sources for these couple of books and apps for Chinese that may help provide a logical overall structuring which will make it easier to apply or adapt one’s favorite mnemotechniques to make the bulk vocabulary memorization easier.
The last thing I’ll mention I’ve found, that’s good for practicing writing by hand as well as spaced repetition is a Kanji notebook frequently used by native Japanese speaking children as they’re learning the levels of kanji in each grade. It’s non-obvious to the English speaker, and took me a bit to puzzle out and track down a commercially printed one, even with a child in a classroom that was using a handmade version. The notebook (left to right and top to bottom) has sections for writing a big example of the learned kanji; spaces for the “Kun” and “On” readings; spaces for the number of strokes and the radical pieces; a section for writing out the stroke order as it builds up gradually; practice boxes for repeated practice of writing the whole kanji; examples of how to use the kanji in context; and finally space for the student to compose their own practice sentences using the new kanji.
Regular use and practice with these can be quite helpful for moving toward mastery.
I also can’t emphasize enough that regularly and actively watching, listening, reading, and speaking in the target language with materials that one finds interesting is incredibly valuable. As an example, one of the first things I did for Welsh was to find a streaming television and radio that I want to to watch/listen to on a regular basis has been helpful. Regular motivation and encouragement is key.
I won’t go into them in depth and will leave them to speak for themselves, but two of the more intriguing videos I’ve watched on language acquisition which resonate with some of my experiences are:
Words painstakingly recorded for decades to revive the once-banned language of the NSW south coast are being spoken again on country that breathes life into them.
I was so pleased to receive this email from Sue Norman telling me how The Memory Code had been part of the ground work for this wonderful project on revitalising Aboriginal languages. The linked report is from the ABC. It is so rewarding to get endorsement from Aboriginal organisations.