Yesterday. the scintillating* Alan Jacobs’s first post went live on The Atlantic website (from Atlantis to Atlantic — one letter makes a big difference, eh?), on a topic that many of my former students, and many former denizens of the web circles in which I started out, would probably recognise. Alan connects the commonplace books of days gone by to Tumblr, Evernote, Instapaper, and so on. He’s not the first to notice this, of course; our brother Tom Matrullo started his Commonplaces blog way, way back in olden times, when weblogs.com was free hosting via the Radio platform. And I used to require students in some of my classes — particularly in the Early Church History class — to maintain a commonplace book for storing the noteworthy quotations from their readings.
Alan also notes that Warren Ellis’s guest columnist Jess Nevins discusses Lord Byron’s participation in the commonplace-book culture ( = proto-fanfic culture) of the early nineteenth century. (And still later, Alan tweeted that he was thinking about hand-writing his favourite quotations and posting photos of those to his Tumblr.)
So if a long time ago I gave an assignment to keep a commonplace book, or to write a pseudo-Pauline epistle (an even earlier example of fanfic!)… pedagogical idiosyncrasy doesn’t entirely explain what-all was going on. You were keeping alive literary genres that went millennia back in history, and which have particularly flourished with the advent of digital media.
* ‘Groucho, use “scintillate” in a sentence.’
‘Lucy flirts and teases all evening, but she doesn’t scintillate.’