On Annotating Books

James Smith, who teaches philosophy at Calvin College and blogs—all too infrequently—at Fors Clavigera, was recently asked how he annotates primary texts. 

It was an interesting question, because annotating books is certainly one of the central practices of my scholarly life–and yet it’s not something I was ever explicitly taught, nor is it something I’ve attempted to teach it to others.  I suppose I (mistakenly) thought it was somehow “natural,” or that annotation practices were so idiosyncratic that it would be presumptuous to even try.

On the other hand, the question got me wondering whether this isn’t one of the sorts of concrete aspects of study and scholarship that professors should spend more time talking about.  So, with just that notion in mind, I’ve here gathered a few random thoughts about how I approach the annotation of texts.  And I’ve included a few examples, not because I think my approach is exemplary, but only to give some concrete pictures to consider.  I’m sure others have both more elaborate and more efficient procedures.

What a wonderful gift for bibliophiles! Here‘s Smith’s system, complete with pictures!

How do you annotate books?



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2 responses to “On Annotating Books

  1. Kevin Traube

    Joe: I finally read this post. [I’m slow, but I do get around to it!] Point #8 struck me as obvious [once it was pointed out to me] and brilliant, all at the same time. Very helpful – thanks for sharing it! ~Kevin

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