Could one go as far as to say that the ten commandments (numbered notes) presumably etched onto stone tablets (slips) and placed into the ark of the covenant (a box) and which coherently formed the basis of knowledge and living a good life for the twelve tribes was a zettelkasten?

Why not?

Lower register (second of two) of an Illuminated manuscript page in rich colors. Two men are carrying the ark of the covenant in the center surrounded by men playing ram's horns. Above the ark is a blue circular wall representing Jericho inside of which is a jumble of buildings and heads.

On the seventh day of the siege of Jericho, the Ark of the Covenant is carried around the city, horns are blown and the walls collapse (Josh 6:20-25).
Extract from Latin Psalter from England – BSB Hss Clm 835, fol. 21r. Oxford, 1st quarter of the 13th century
Source: München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Today is the release day for Roland Allen’s new book The Notebook: A History of Thinking on Paper (Profile Books, 2023).  Those in the note taking, , , and intellectual history spaces may appreciate it.

Book cover of The Notebook

Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic by Simon Winchester

In case some haven’t been watching, I’ll mention that Simon Winchester’s new book Knowing What We Know on knowledge to transmission was published by Harper on April 25th in North America. For zettelkasten fans, you’ll note that it has some familiar references and suggested readings including by our friends Markus Krajewski, Ann Blair, Iaian McGilchrist, Alex Wright, Anthony Grafton, Dennis Duncan, and Mortimer J. Adler to name but a few.

Many are certain to know his award winning 1998 book The Professor and the Madman which was also transformed into the eponymous 2019 film starring Sean Penn. Though he didn’t use the German word zettelkasten in the book, he tells the story of philologist James Murray’s late 1800s collaborative 6 million+ slip box collection of words and sentences which when edited into a text is better known today as the Oxford English Dictionary.

If you need some additional motivation to check out his book, I’ll use the fact that Winchester, as a writer, is one of the most talented non-linear storytellers I’ve ever come across, something which many who focus on zettelkasten output may have a keen interest in studying.

Book club anyone? (I’m sort of hoping that Dan Allosso’s group will pick it up as one of their next books after Donut Economics, but I’m game to read it with others before then.)


Book released on 4/25/2023; Book acquired on 4/26/2023

A note about my article on Goitein with respect to Zettelkasten Output Processes

Not long ago I made a Call for Model Examples of Zettelkasten Output Processes. To answer a part of that call and to highlight my own reading, note taking, and writing process, in the production of writing S.D. Goitein’s Card Index, I’ve included red # hyperlinks to all of the available digital notes I took while doing my research which is synthesized there. The interested reader can then look back to see the date and timestamps of all of my original notes and compare them if they wish to the final text of the piece. One will notice that most of the Goitein-specific portions occurred on two consecutive days while other portions were tied in from notes taken over the past two years including a few which may have been older, but revised for import.

I’m hoping that this example will give the aspiring interested note takers, commonplacers, and zettelkasten maintainers a peek into a small portion of my own specific process if they’d like to look more closely at such an example.

Following the reading and note taking portions of the process, I spent about 5 minutes scratching out a brief outline for the shape of the piece onto one of my own 4 x 6″ index cards. I then spent 15 minutes cutting and pasting all of what I felt the relevant notes were into the outline and arranging them. I then spent about two hours writing and (mostly) editing the whole. In a few cases I also cut and pasted a few things from my digital notes which I also felt would be interesting or relevant (primarily the parts on “notes per day” which I had from prior research.) All of this was followed by about an hour on administrivia like references and HTML formatting to put it up on my website. While some portions were pre-linked in a Luhmann-ese zettelkasten sense, other portions like the section on notes per day were a search for that tag in my digital repository in Hypothes.is which allowed me to pick and choose the segments I wanted to cut and paste for this particular piece.

From the outline to the finished piece I spent about three and a half hours to put together the 3,500 word piece. The research, reading, and note taking portion took less than a day’s worth of entertaining diversion to do including several fun, but ultimately blind alleys which didn’t ultimately make the final cut.

For the college paper writers, this entire process took less than three days off and on to produce what would be the rough equivalent of a double spaced 15 page paper with footnotes and references. Naturally some of my material came from older prior notes, and I would never suggest one try to cram write a paper this way. However, making notes on a variety of related readings over the span of a quarter or semester in this way could certainly allow one to relatively quickly generate some reasonably interesting material in a way that’s both interesting to and potentially even fun for the student and which could potentially push the edges of a discipline—I was certainly never bored during the process other than some of the droller portions of cutting/pasting.

While the majority of the article is broadly straightforward stringing together of facts, one of the interesting insights for me was connecting a broader range of idiosyncratic note taking and writing practices together across time and space to the idea of statistical mechanics. This is slowly adding to a broader thesis I’m developing about the evolving life of these knowledge practices over time. I can’t wait to see what develops from this next.

In the meanwhile, I’m happy to have some additional documentation for another prominent zettelkasten example which resulted in a body of academic writing which exceeds the output of Niklas Luhmann’s own corpus of work. The other outliers in the example include a significant contribution to a posthumously published book as well as digitized collection which is still actively used by scholars for its content rather than for its shape. I’ll also note that along the way I found at least one and possibly two other significant zettelkasten examples to take a look at in the near future. The assured one has over 15,000 slips, apparently with a hierarchical structure and a focus on linguistics which has some of the vibes of John Murray’s “slip boxes” used in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Reposted a post by Ryan RandallRyan Randall (hcommons.social)
Earnest but still solidifying #pkm take:
The ever-rising popularity of personal knowledge management tools indexes the need for liberal arts approaches. Particularly, but not exclusively, in STEM education.
When people widely reinvent the concept/practice of commonplace books without building on centuries of prior knowledge (currently institutionalized in fields like library & information studies, English, rhetoric & composition, or media & communication studies), that's not "innovation."
Instead, we're seeing some unfortunate combination of lost knowledge, missed opportunities, and capitalism selectively forgetting in order to manufacture a market.
A multi-layered statement, but let’s reflect for a moment on how the West wholly misses out on a hidden personal knowledge management technique inherent in orality.

Quote card featuring part of the indigenous art-inspired cover of the book Songlines by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly with the quote "Inuit man Dempsey Bob said, ‘The trouble with whitefellas is that they keep all their brains in books.’"

Replied to Commonplace Book, a Verb or a Noun? by Aaron DavisAaron Davis (Read Write Respond)
Whenever I read about the various ideas, I feel like I do not necessarily belong. Thinking about my practice, I never quite feel that it is deliberate enough.
Sometimes the root question is “what to I want to do this for?” Having an underlying reason can be hugely motivating.

Are you collecting examples of things for students? (seeing examples can be incredibly powerful, especially for defining spaces) for yourself? Are you using them for exploring a particular space? To clarify your thinking/thought process? To think more critically? To write an article, blog, or book? To make videos or other content?

Your own website is a version of many of these things in itself. You read, you collect, you write, you interlink ideas and expand on them. You’re doing it much more naturally than you think.

I find that having an idea of the broader space, what various practices look like, and use cases for them provides me a lot more flexibility for what may work or not work for my particular use case. I can then pick and choose for what suits me best, knowing that I don’t have to spend as much time and effort experimenting to invent a system from scratch but can evolve something pre-existing to suit my current needs best.

It’s like learning to cook. There are thousands of methods (not even counting cuisine specific portions) for cooking a variety of meals. Knowing what these are and their outcomes can be incredibly helpful for creatively coming up with new meals. By analogy students are often only learning to heat water to boil an egg, but with some additional techniques they can bake complicated French pâtissier. Often if you know a handful of cooking methods you can go much further and farther using combinations of techniques and ingredients.

What I’m looking for in the reading, note taking, and creation space is a baseline version of Peter Hertzmann’s 50 Ways to Cook a Carrot combined with Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Generally cooking is seen as an overly complex and difficult topic, something that is emphasized on most aspirational cooking shows. But cooking schools break the material down into small pieces which makes the processes much easier and more broadly applicable. Once you’ve got these building blocks mastered, you can be much more creative with what you can create.

How can we combine these small building blocks of reading and note taking practices for students in the 4th – 8th grades so that they can begin to leverage them in high school and certainly by college? Is there a way to frame them within teaching rhetoric and critical thinking to improve not only learning outcomes, but to improve lifelong learning and thinking?

Cosma by Arthur Perret et al seems to be just the sort of interoperable, open, & standards-based tools for thought app that Friends of the Link will appreciate
@flancian @JerryMichalski @MathewLowry @Borthwick @dwhly @An_Agora @ZsViczian
https://cosma.graphlab.fr/en/docs/user-manual/
Read The Quest for a Memex 2022-07-31 by Kevin MarksKevin Marks (kevinmarks.com)
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 got stuck over the weekend, so I totally missed Kevin Marks’ memex demo at IndieWebCamp’s Create Day, but it is an interesting little UI experiment.

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.

MIT MediaLab’s Fold site (details) was also an interesting sort of UI experiment in this space.

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”?

Replied to a tweet by TfTHacker (Twitter)
There are many historical terms for these tools. Second brain is one of the worst and is primarily a marketing term. See: https://boffosocko.com/2021/07/03/differentiating-online-variations-of-the-commonplace-book-digital-gardens-wikis-zettlekasten-waste-books-florilegia-and-second-brains/#Second%20brain

A smidgen of its use stems from the mistranslation of some Luhmann work which is better read as “secondary memory”.

One of my favorites is Eminem’s “stacking ammo“.

Replied to a thread by AGWilsonn (Twitter)
For academics, a range of sources and spaces may be best from books, articles on down to tweets. The Garden and Stream may be a useful metaphor with respect to your Twitter (stream) use: https://hapgood.us/2015/10/17/the-garden-and-the-stream-a-technopastoral/

For ideas on implementing this (under various names) try: https://indieweb.org/commonplace_book. Micro.blog may be one of the online platforms that does a lot of this with IndieWeb building blocks, allows syndication to twitter, has a low barrier, and a reasonable subscription cost. It’s a social reader that also includes

Examples specific to religious studies I’ve seen, include those considered “florilegia”, Philip Melanchthon, and Jonathan Edwards, just to name a few.

I’m always curious about which methods and tools people use to take best advantage of these knowledge ideas, particularly for collecting, curating, reusing, and ultimately creating. Have you written about your overall experience with Knovigator and how you use it in this context?

A Domain of One’s Own for use as a personal Learning Management System (pLMS)

I love that Johannes Klingbiel’s article Building a new website highlights having his own place on the Internet as a means to learn.

To learn—A rather obvious one, but I wanted to challenge myself again. 

While I suspect that part of the idea here is to learn about the web and programming, it’s also important to have a place you can more easily look over and review as well as build out on as one learns. This dovetails in part with his third reason to have his own website: “to build”. It’s much harder to build out a learning space on platforms like Medium and Twitter. It’s not as easy to revisit those articles and notes as those platforms aren’t custom built for those sorts of learning affordances.

Building your own website for learning makes it by definition a learning management system. The difference between my idea of a learning management system here and the more corporate LMSes (Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) is that you can change and modify the playground as you go. While your own personal LMS may also be a container for holding knowledge, it is a container for building and expanding knowledge. Corporate LMSes aren’t good at these last two things, but are built for making it easier for a course facilitator to distribute and grade material.

We definitely need more small personal learning management systems. (pLMS, anyone? I like the idea of the small “p” to highlight the value of these being small.) Even better if they have social components like some of the IndieWeb building blocks that make it easier for one to build a personal learning network and interact with others’ LMSes on the web. I see some of this happening in the Digital Gardens space and with people learning and sharing in public.

[[Flancian]]’s Anagora.org is a good example of this type of public learning space that is taking the individual efforts of public learners and active thinkers and knitting their efforts together to facilitate a whole that is bigger than the sum of it’s pieces.

I guested on a recording for Andy Sylvester‘s new Thinking About Tools for Thought podcast earlier today. Hopefully I’ve lived up to the promise of the fascinating space that he’s been crafting there.