A friend posted a photo on Twitter recently, showing a library book she was reading that had notes in the margins. Someone had been writing notes in pen, either for their own edification, or for a class, or other study of some sort.1 Someone else followed later in pencil, critiquing the previous reader’s spelling and adopting a bit of tone. She captioned the photo tagging a mutual friend and mentioned he seemed like the sort who would write the second note, but said she knew better. He noted it couldn’t be him, because he didn’t write in all caps any more. I cut in and noted if I didn’t abhor writing in books, I’d wonder if I’d written the 2nd note (hashtag postitlover). At this point, yet another friend piped in with simply one word: “Marginalia!” At which point, I remembered a half-dozen things and mumbled I should write a blog about marginalia. Font Folly thought this would be a fun read. So. Here is a bit of un-packing of my thoughts.
In college (or high school, but I recall it the most in college), books are bought (really leased) and then later sold back in book stores, and you end up with used books that are loaded with notes; in the margins, on the page, within the tables, and along the lists.
If you were very lucky, you had a book that was previously used by a smart note-taker. More often, you have people who aren’t always paying complete attention to the teacher.
So I developed an extreme hatred for notes in the margin of biology, chemistry, history, political science and theory books. Even more, as I was an English major, I detested notes in the margins of novels; textbooks of essays, short stories, and poems; and plays. Because I could never experience the work unaffected by others. I never could get a first, unadulterated read.
I quickly discovered most professors had no sympathy for that argument:
“Just ignore it!”
But how do you ignore words on the page when you’re reading?
“Well, you ignore footnotes, don’t you?”
NO! They’re there to be read, and put there by the author or the editor! They’re intended to be part of the work.
“Wait, you actually read the footnotes?!”
Why wouldn’t I?!
“No one else does!”
Eventually, I figured out that not everyone reads in blocks and absorbs at least a general idea of the block of text at a quick glance.
I have to slow down significantly when reading aloud, because I can’t grab all of the text at once. It won’t come out of my mouth right. I recognize that’s not the best example. Everyone has to slow down a little bit to read aloud. Another example: I glance at a sign or ad block, or even a phone screen; and while I rarely get it exact, I can generally summarize what I saw without particularly trying. In fact, I have to work very hard to ignore or focus on just bits at a time. It’s a nice challenge, if I’m looking to do it. But if I’m trying to simply absorb the knowledge I’m reading, it’s a nuisance.
On the other hand, when I’m reading an article about how a historian or archeologist has discovered something new about monks, or normal people, based in part on the study of marginalia, and how those people were interacting with books and papers they found important at the time; I’m incredibly interested and want to read all about it! Yes, I even want to read those pages, myself! Because then it’s historical record, and in some way, my brain has decided it’s okay, even intended, to be experienced in such a way.
I do realize; it’s a hypocritical reaction. But I can’t deny I find the sociological implications very intriguing and even enthralling.
So I can’t say I hate marginalia. Because it’s more that I have a complicated relationship with it. I would prefer to use post it notes myself, when keeping notes2, and not have to see others’ notes when I’m studying something actively; but I do love that they exist and that there are things we can learn from them.
1. Honestly, I think the original reader was arguing with the text and couldn’t resist him or herself.
2. A reading journal would be awesome, but I’m not that organized and I recognize that about myself.
I have thoughts on this article in the Huffington Post. Please go read, if you haven’t already. The beauty of the internet is I’ll still be here when you’re done.
I have these thoughts as someone who lived with a professor who mostly didn’t care about titles on a day to day basis. (He cared about achievements, but that’s not quite the same thing.) He also cared a great deal about his students learning and understanding what he taught. Actually, as an aside, unless one is tenured (sometimes even then), you do hear from your dean if you have a rather high fail rate. (Dad used to review those sort of numbers when he was in the dean’s office.)
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this fellow is tenured.
I agree with his comments on citations – at least for Western culture. (Other cultures handle appropriation/attribution of thoughts very differently.) It doesn’t help that there are posts on Tumblr and various sites claiming to show the appropriate methods of citing internet sources that are actually only barely correct, or only apply to a certain style. (You do know that there are various bibliographical styles and some apply to some academic regimes and not others, yes?)
Otherwise, this sounds a bit like an excuse for being set in his ways and he sounds like the sort of professor I would have endured, possibly passed the course in, but ultimately learned nothing other than what asses people may be. And I specify possibly passed for a reason. I had a professor of his ilk for my statistics and probability course (the real Math class, not the Business Stats and Probability, because this was for a computer science minor) that I ultimately could not pass. He could only teach one way, and he honestly didn’t care if we didn’t learn his way.
And, to be a semantic pain in the butt myself (because I have a sense of humor, and I know I can be a snarky one), I offer the following definitions:
(All definitions below are from the New Oxford American Dictionary.)
1 (also full professor)a teacher of the highest rank in a college or university.
• an associate professor or an assistant professor.
• informal any instructor, esp. in a specialized field.
2 a person who affirms a faith in or allegiance to something: the professors of true religion.
Breaking these down to verbs we learn the following:
profess |prəˈfes, prō-|
verb [ with obj. ]
1 claim openly but often falsely that one has (a quality or feeling): he had professed his love for her | [ with infinitive ] : I don’t profess to be an expert | [ with complement ] (profess oneself) : he professed himself amazed at the boy’s ability.
2 affirm one’s faith in or allegiance to (a religion or set of beliefs): a people professing Christianity.
• (be professed) be received into a religious order under vows: she entered St. Margaret’s Convent, and was professed in 1943.
3 dated or humorous teach (a subject) as a professor: a professor—what does he profess?
4 archaic have or claim knowledge or skill in (a subject or accomplishment).
verb (past and past participle taught |tôt| ) [ with obj. and infinitive or clause ]
show or explain to (someone) how to do something: she taught him to read | he taught me how to ride a bike.
• [ with obj. ] give information about or instruction in (a subject or skill): he came one day each week to teach painting | [ with two objs. ] : she teaches me French.
• [ no obj. ] give such instruction professionally: she teaches at the local high school.
• [ with obj. ] encourage someone to accept (something) as a fact or principle: the philosophy teaches self-control.
• cause (someone) to learn or understand something by example or experience: she’d been taught that it paid to be passive | my upbringing taught me never to be disrespectful to elders.
• informal make (someone) less inclined to do something: “I’ll teach you to mess with young girls!”
1 [ reporting verb ] direct or command someone to do something, esp. as an official order: [ with obj. and infinitive ] : she instructed him to wait | [ with direct speech ] : “Look at me,” he instructed | [ with clause ] : I instructed that she be given hot, sweet tea.
2 [ with obj. ] teach (someone) a subject or skill: he instructed them in the use of firearms | [ with obj. and clause ] : instructing electors how to record their votes.
3 [ with obj. ] Law give a person direction, information, or authorization, in particular:
• (of a judge) give information, esp. clarification of legal principles, to (a jury).
• inform (someone) of a fact or situation: [ with clause ] : the bank was instructed that the money from the savings account was now held by the company.
So this professor professes to instruct, but not to teach; well he certainly taught me something about jaded and lofty professors who are forced to teach below their pay grade.
(end of sarcastic rant: *yaaaaawns*)
Originally posted in similar form on my personal Facebook page, May 21, 2015. It has been in my draft folder while I decided whether to edit and post, post as is, or delete. I edited slightly, but they were additionas rather than subtractions.
I’ve always felt education was important as a choice and true option (in other words, if you really want to go to school past the legal age of being able to quit, there should be ways to manage that besides going into extreme debt, and we as a country should care about that). But it should be a choice. If you don’t want to go, or can’t for a time because of another life event, you should not be shamed by the academic elite. And those who choose hard work should not shame those who are turned on by research. And hey, those who like BOTH? Take all the advantage you can!
I’ve always felt that adults who love each other ought to be able to publicly acknowledge and marry each other. Period. If you are an adult in our current society and you love another adult who loves you back and wants to declare it, you ought to be able to get married.
I’ve always felt that women can be in jobs that men are in. (My opinion on “be as good as” varies depending on the definitions, which just means that I need feminism, even though I innately recognized at a young age that calling a woman a feminist is a slur in the part of the country I grew up in.)
I don’t want to get rid of guns completely (although I suspect my version of gun control is a lot closer to motor vehicle driver’s licensing than most people would like). I wouldn’t mind smacking some supposed gun advocates in the head with a clue stick, as they seemed to have missed out on their portion of common sense when it was being handed out. Either that, or it has already been beaten down with copious amounts of funding and bribery. (oh, sorry… that was my cynical out loud voice)
I believe in informed taxation (if you want the fire department down the road to be staffed, and you vote for a small increase in property tax to cover that, and you rent, you expect your landlord to raise your rent – that’s probably more informed voting than taxation though).
Sometimes I believe in the death penalty (although I hate where we are at as a country with it, and I hate the ironic nature of it as a punishment). It’s getting harder and harder to believe in the death penalty. But, it’s just equally hard to believe in prison in certain cases where I’m not sure I believe that a person can “get better”.
I believe in freedom of religion but also FROM religion. Specifically, I really don’t believe proselytizing should be allowed to the degree it is. It’s a weird thing to get prudish about. Christians feel they are being Othered right now. In some cases, yes, maybe so. (Christmas trees have very little to do with Christianity in reality. Christianity co-opted them along with any number of holidays. It’d be cool if Christmas trees were allowed to stay in government offices. It’d be awesome of they were decorated with important items from EACH PERSON in the office. Don’t stop the atheist from putting up an ornament about their favorite scientist. Or any other religion from putting up something important to their faith. They’d look so awesome and inclusive then. Make it a Secret Ornament Tree. The holiday party would be so much more interesting – what does this ornament represent? Ideas? Okay, can the person who put it there tell us what we got right and what we didn’t?) In some cases, they are just finally experiencing push-back from people they have Othered for centuries who are saying to STOP. STOP making us feel horrible because we believe a different thing. Stop making us uncomfortable and getting in our personal space by praying over us to feel the light of God in our lives and to be guided in our daily lives.
That last one is bothering me a lot right now, because I have watched both sides of it. I’ve watched self-proclaimed Christians become angry and bitter and frustrated because their privilege is being revoked or even just called out. I’ve also watched people who once might not have minded being called Christians crumple and become extremely depressed and unhappy by things happening around them and two them all under the umbrella of “prayer” and “God’s work”. It’s bothered me enough that I dusted off an old draft called “politics” that had those previous opinions in shorter form, that was culled from a post that they had little to do with, and expanded on them.
The gun one has been bothering me a lot lately too. But I’m so saddened and frustrated I just… can’t get into it right now. It will have to be dealt with later.