The Commonplace Blog

As I finish planning for the fourth quarter of the school year today, I found among my materials from last year my directions for a summative project I made up called “The Commonplace Blog.” 

First, I review with students what a “commonplace” was.  This is especially relevant in American Lit:

“Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors.”


“Students with literary tastes, in days when books were hard to come by, kept ‘commonplace’ or notebooks into which they copied out verses or prose extracts that particularly appealed to them.” The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, by Samuel Eliot Morison (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965; reprint of the 2nd ed., 1956): p. 49.


“An early practitioner of reflective journaling was Thomas Jefferson. He would synopsize and capture the key points of his readings and add his own reflections, recording them in a journal which he called his ‘commonplace book.’ One of his biographers quoted Jefferson as saying ‘I was in the habit of abridging and commonplacing what I read meriting it, and of sometimes mixing my own reflections on the subject’ (Cunningham, 1987, p. 9). His tutor, James Maury, commended the practice as a means ‘to reflect, and remark on, and digest what you read’ (Wilson, 1989, p. 7).”-Herman W. Hughes, Dialogic Reflection: A New Face on an Old Pedagogy


So, it’s a very old tradition of keeping clips of writing you like in a sort of scrapbook.  For more about commonplace books, and especially to see how important they were in the early American tradition, see this article from Yale.


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