Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Note Taking???

Jonathan Jarrett posted recently about his methods of note taking: Curt Emanuel followed up with his own method of note taking here. Both posts have comments from other readers which are insightful and helpful. I thought that perhaps I might frighten the two of you who read this with my own "method" of note taking and keeping track of things.

I do take notes. Sort of. I am very visual oriented. If I read it, generally I remember it, though not always where I read it. So I do jot notes on papers I hear, but not many, hoping that if I like the paper, it will appear in print. If I really like what I hear, I'll ask for a copy, though I confess that many are unwilling to share.

Now before going on about note taking, let me say two things about hearing conference papers and two tools that I wish were more widely used in our field.

The first is something that the Society of Biblical Literature does. SBL holds a large conference, a little bigger than K'zoo, each year. Papers are longer than our standard 20 minutes, but other than that there is a great deal of commonality between the two. Each year, the SBL used to publish SBL Proceedings, or something like that that consisted of papers read at the conference (this was back when I was an active member more than 20 years ago now. I can no longer find any such thing on their website, so Stephen or some other SBLer can give me some info, perhaps). Session organizers, I believe, nominate papers from their sessions for inclusion in the published SBL proceedings, authors would polish said papers, and in they would go into a fairly thick but enormously useful and interesting collection of the best of the conference.

I've tried to do something similar on a much smaller scale. At various times in the past, I have written organizers and authors of various sessions at Leeds and Kalamazoo and suggested doing a special section in The Heroic Age that would essentially be a session or two sessions of papers as read at the conference with the addition of footnotes. We'd actually put these up as PDFs for download, and so begin a process of perhaps having an Late Antique-Early Medieval would involve little editing on HA's part, authors would retain copy right and so could continue to work on their contribution and publish a version elsewhere with only a nod in our direction, and of course would be free other than the cost of hosting, give CV lines, and make scholarship more widely available online. Combine this effort with the new discussions on more open peer editing recently practiced at The Shakespeare Quarterly and subsequent discussions, and in my view we'd have a winner publication. Minimal work by editors, authors, and minimal costs with the benefit of a wider dissemination of good scholarship that benefits interested readers, scholars, authors, and conference organizers alike seems a good initiative to get behind and encourage.

Alas, I've never been able to drum up interest. Usually my proposal is met with silence. I am thinking that I may just simply go ahead and institute a practice next year in the session I'm involved in K'zoo and just do it....though I have been reluctant since *I* am involved that that taint the effort. Anyway....there it is. It is a tool that would make some note taking unnecessary.

A second tool that I wish were more widely used and done in the field is the marvelous practices of the Old English Newsletter. Two issues of the four that OEN publishes each year (ok, now the only 2 issues actually printed in traditional format)are the annual bibliography in Anglo-Saxon Studies and the Annotated Bibl. Also published each year are abstracts from conferences on papers dealing with Anglo-Saxon studies. Once again the online environment and HA provide an opportunity to create useful tools for the field as well.

First, the bibliography would be extremely useful. Copied in part from OEN and from TOCS-IN for classics, an online bibliography for the field of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Studies (excluding Anglo-Saxon England) would be very helpful in a lot of ways. The biggest thing needed is PEOPLE. While eventually and over time one hopes to build the database backwards, what would be useful is just simply starting with this year (or whatever year) as Year One. Many hands make quick work. So one person is in charge of Merovingian studies, and under that person several colleagues contribute a little. One or two people Irish studies and so on. It would be pretty easy to build a database/wiki if people would be willing simply to input what they read in their own field.

Second, the summary of what is published. We all read journal articles. Not necessarily when they first appear, but we do read them and get to the lastest Peritia, Scholastica, Medium Aevum etc. Simply write a summary, the same summary perhaps that you would do for your own notes and filing system or Library Thing or whatever you use to keep track. Very helpful, and collecting such notes together in one place gives one a good overview of what is going on in the field, even fields outside one's own.

Third, related to the conference proceedings would be the conference abstract of papers in the field for conferences. Most conferences require a submitted abstract, so simply submit the abstract to the abstract wiki after you send the paper in. Organizers of sessions have abstracts, simply submit them to the wiki.....quick work, many hands, one useful tool.

Ok, that covers that....I dream big. I think these would be very useful and for the most part would simply be gathering together work we already do for ourselves.

Back to the main subject method of note taking. I don't have a method. I take notes...I write in margins of books and articles, I highlight, I have know those blank books they have at book stores, and I jot ideas, articles, info, etc in there. But I also have electronic notes and files. I have a database of materials I have that is not complete in any way, shape or form, but during breaks (like I have those!!!) I do input material. So my note taking is as eclectic as I am: pen and paper, marginalia and other types of glossing, electronic, once in a while I even write up summaries of material.

One thing about databases, notes, and the like: leave room for serendipity!!! Seriously, some of my best finds of information have been the result of accident while browsing something else.

Ok, enough. I will be moving soon, so I am not certain whether there will be posting for awhile. Not that I'm frequent in the first place. But there it is.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of Right now it is mostly science blogs but it is open to humanities as well. If humanities folks would use it, it could be very helpful.

theswain said...

EWWWW..scientists....I have, through you. Haven't really taken a look though.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I had a bunch of things to say to this, but Blogger appears to be choking on my OpenID so I lost them all. A quick resumé...

Firstly, I don't think publishing conference papers quicker would diminish the notes I have to take; it's part of my reading process too. This is something that maybe I could fix, with books I own at least.

As far as Leeds is concerned, there is actually a series for publication of its papers, International Medieval Research, which we hope is where our charters papers will go. It's been dormant for a short while but I was told at Leeds by a certain respected academic that she was going to make sure that ended now. And of course, lots of people's Leeds papers go other places. So you might wind up with a rather odd crop of leftovers for tHA...

The abstracts wiki, though, that is not only a really good idea but not even too much work to set up (at least compared to the other ideas...). It would be nice to do the same thin with online abstracts from journal articles, though there the copyright issues may be a problem even if the actual content is openly available on the web. But so much stuff never makes it beyond conferences that what you're suggesting here would be a genuine service.