Victor Margolin’s zettelkasten process for note taking and writing

It’s not as refined or as compartmentalized as Niklas Luhmann’s process, but art historian Victor Margolin broadly outlines his note taking and writing process in reasonable detail in this excellent three minute video. (This may be one of the shortest and best produced encapsulations of these reading/note taking/writing methods I’ve ever seen.)

Though he indicates it was a “process [he] developed”, it is broadly similar to that of the influential “historical method” laid out by Ernst Bernheim and later Seignobos/Langlois in the late 1800s.

Victor Margolin’s note taking and writing process

  • Collecting materials and bibliographies in files based on categories (for chapters)
  • Reads material, excerpts/note making on 5 x 7″ note cards
    • Generally with a title (based on visual in video)
    • excerpts have page number references (much like literature notes, the refinement linking and outlining happens separately later in his mapping and writing processes)
    • filed in a box with tabbed index cards by chapter number with name
    • video indicates that he does write on both sides of cards breaking the usual rule to write only on one side
  • Uses large pad of newsprint (roughly 18″ x 24″ based on visualization) to map out each chapter in visual form using his cards in a non-linear way. Out of the diagrams and clusters he creates a linear narrative form.
  •  Tapes diagrams to wall
  •  Writes in text editor on computer as he references the index cards and the visual map.

I’ve developed a way of working to make this huge project of a world history of design manageable.
—Victor Margolin

Notice here that Victor Margolin doesn’t indicate that it was a process that he was taught, but rather “I’ve developed”. Of course he was likely taught or influenced on the method, particularly as a historian, and that what he really means to communicate is that this is how he’s evolved that process.

I begin with a large amount of information.
—Victor Margolin


As I begin to write a story begins to emerge because, in fact, I’ve already rehearsed this story in several different ways by getting the information for the cards, mapping it out and of course the writing is then the third way of telling the story the one that will ultimately result in the finished chapters.
—Victor Margolin

Bookmarked #ianno19 Keynote: The Simple Secret of the Note in Us All by Gardner Campbell by (YouTube)

Gardner Campbell of Virginia Commonwealth University keynotes the seventh annual I Annotate gathering in Washington DC, focused on the theme Annotation Unleashed: The Web at 30. Note well. Take note. Make a note. Leave a mark. Annotation, learning, teaching, and human flourishing are all deeply intertwingled. I’ll explore some of these connections, with illustrations from my use of annotation in the classroom as well as in my work with Doug Engelbart’s 1962 research report and manifesto, Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. Along the way, I’ll consider the central question Shoshana Zuboff poses in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: “Can the digital future be our home?” Or will it be a place of exile? View Gardner's slides: Explore #ianno19:

Thank you to Gardner himself for working to create this final edited version of his presentation!

Referenced by Paul Schacht (English/Digital Learning, SUNY Geneseo) in the I Annotate 2021 Panel: Digital Literacies panel
Bookmarked AnnotatED Bibliography (

We invite you use this collaborative bibliography on annotation, curated by members of AnnotatED, the community for annotation in education that includes educators, researchers, and technologists from organizations that engage deeply with collaborative annotation as a transformative practice in teaching and learning.

You can also visit a filtered view of the full bibliography that includes only scholarship specifically related to Hypothesis and the full bibliography directly in Zotero. Contact us to make suggestions or join as a contributor.

Pantheon: A great resource of people and bibliographical data for PAO systems

When creating a Person-Action-Object (PAO) system, sometimes a major issue is having the creativity and perseverance of coming up with a strong repository of names, pictures, and other related data to use.

While doing some research today on collective learning I came across a really well-curated and research-grade system called Pantheon with a wealth of all the sorts of data one could possibly want when creating a PAO.

Naturally if you’re memorizing dates and places for other reasons, there’s a great wealth of data and some useful visualizations hiding in here as well. I suspect that some may find it useful for work with names and faces too.