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Writers have been aggregating, storing and sharing information through “commonplace books” for centuries—it’s only the technology that’s changed:
Before the affordability of personal libraries, and before people were able to access the world’s knowledge through the Internet, readers and writers had to find reasonable ways to consolidate and store information that could be useful to them. There were no social media to help them aggregate and share stories, quotes, recipes, or images. That doesn’t mean they didn’t do exactly that. They created personal anthologies called commonplace books.
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Commonplace books functioned as literary scrapbooks filled with quotes, poems, proverbs, prayers, recipes, and letters. Each was a unique collection that reflected the interests of its creator. “Great wits have short memories,” as a Chinese proverb goes; and so their short memories have driven the great wits to keep commonplace books.
[Photo: Sara Coleridge’s commonplace book, with some watercolors and poems. She was an English author and translator who was the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.]