ABOUT THIS BOOK
A beautifully illustrated argument that reveals notebooks as extraordinary paper machines that transformed knowledge on the page and in the mind.
Information is often characterized as facts that float effortlessly across time and space. But before the nineteenth century, information was seen as a process that included a set of skills enacted through media on a daily basis. How, why, and where were these mediated facts and skills learned? Concentrating on manuscripts created by students in Scotland between 1700 and 1830, Matthew Daniel Eddy argues that notebooks functioned as workshops where notekeepers learned to judge the accuracy, utility, and morality of the data they encountered. He shows that, in an age preoccupied with "enlightened" values, the skills and materials required to make and use notebooks were not simply aids to reason—they were part of reason itself.
Covering a rich selection of material and visual media ranging from hand-stitched bindings to watercolor paintings, the book problematizes John Locke's comparison of the mind to a blank piece of paper, the tabula rasa. Although one of the most recognizable metaphors of the British Enlightenment, scholars seldom consider why it was so successful for those who used it. Eddy makes a case for using the material culture of early modern manuscripts to expand the meaning of the metaphor in a way that offers a clearer understanding of the direct relationship that existed between thinking and notekeeping. Starting in the home, moving to schools, and then ending with universities, the book explores this argument by reconstructing the relationship between media and the mind from the bottom up.