As we are approaching the runway for our final class sessions, I’m getting to see much of the work that my Digital Dickens students have been doing all semester. We’re working through our Omeka Exhibits on Bleak House now. It’s been utter joy to bring all the way into a variety of methodologies: History of the Book, Textual Scholarship, Bibliography, and Print Culture Studies. On the first day of class, I handed each of them a hardbound journal with blank pages (no lines) and invited them to commit at least 6 entries each week in the model of a commonplace book. They are just about to turn in the lab reports for this semester-long scholarly adventure. Before that, though, I got a look at the elaborate color-coding, pasted images, indexing (yes!), and pressed flowers that ended up between the pages. What they didn’t realize is that the Commonplace Book assignment prepared them to work in a digital environment — they were already using visual representations to articulate argument in their books! What follows are the instructions for the (reflective) Lab Report.

Lab Report: Commonplace Books

For this final Lab Report, you will provide some information about your semester-long activity of keeping a commonplace book. At the outset of this adventure, you were advised to add at least 6 entries per week to your commonplace book. We looked at examples for organizing your pages, even creating a running index. As we exchanged books throughout the semester, many of you noted the logical sequence of organization while others noted that space dictated abandoning that logic.

For this Lab Report, begin by defining the commonplace book based on “Cultures of the Commonplace” by Leah Price (Book History). Next consider the following questions in your Lab Report:

  • Based on Price’s article, is your commonplace book meant for private or public consumption?
  • Did you organize the material for this private or public consumption? How so?
  • How is your commonplace book organized? (Be explicit with this response) — include a photo (or more than 1!) of your commonplace book
  • What particular facet of your commonplace book is most helpful to you and why?
  • Did your thought process change as you kept your commonplace book?
  • How many times have you re-read the information in your commonplace book?
  • Did the topics of information shift over time? How so?
  • Are the topics of your commonplace book gendered? (See Price’s article for help on this one.)
  • How does your commonplace book participate in bookmaking? (See Price’s final argument.)

Don’t answer these questions individually. Instead, use these questions as a launch point for your report.

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