Archive for the ‘Knowledge Networks’ Category

Commonplace Books at Harvard

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Commonplace Books

From the webpage:

In the most general sense, a commonplace book contains a collection of significant or well-known passages that have been copied and organized in some way, often under topical or thematic headings, in order to serve as a memory aid or reference for the compiler. Commonplace books serve as a means of storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work.

The commonplace book has its origins in antiquity in the idea of loci communes, or “common places,” under which ideas or arguments could be located in order to be used in different situations. The florilegium, or “gathering of flowers,” of the Middle Ages and early modern era, collected excerpts primarily on religious and theological themes. Commonplace books flourished during the Renaissance and early modern period: students and scholars were encouraged to keep commonplace books for study, and printed commonplace books offered models for organizing and arranging excerpts. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries printed commonplace books, such as John Locke’s A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books (1706), continued to offer new models of arrangement. The practice of commonplacing continued to thrive in the modern era, as writers appropriated the form for compiling passages on various topics, including the law, science, alchemy, ballads, and theology. The manuscript commonplace books in this collection demonstrate varying degrees and diverse methods of organization, reflecting the idiosyncratic interests and practices of individual readers.

A great collection of selections from commonplace books!

I am rather “lite” on posts for the day because I tried to chase down John Locke’s publication of A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books in French, circa 1686/87.

Unfortunately, the scanned version of Bibliotheque Universelle et Historique I was using, listed “volumes” when they were actually four (4) issues per year and the issue containing Locke’s earlier publication is missing. A translation that appears in John Locke, The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 2 gives this reference:

Translated out of the French from the second volume of Bibliotheque Universelle.

You can view an image of the work at: on page 441.

Someone who could not read Roman numerals gave varying dates for the “volumes” of Bibliotheque Universelle et Historique which didn’t improve my humor. I will try to find a complete scanned set tomorrow and try to chase down the earlier version of A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books. My concern is the graphic that appears in the translation and what appears to be examples at the end. I wanted to confirm that both appear in the original French version.


PS: I know, this isn’t as “practical” as functional programming, writing Pig or Cuda code, but on the other hand, understanding where you are going is at least as important as getting there quickly. Yes?

Commonplace Books

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Commonplace Books as a Source for Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity by Shane Parrish.

From the post:

“You know that I voluntarily communicated this method to you, as I have done to many others, to whom I believed it would not be unacceptable.”

There is an old saying that the truest form of poverty is “when if you have occasion for any thing, you can’t use it, because you know not where it is laid.”

The flood of information is nothing new.

“In fact,” the Harvard historian Ann Blair writes in her book Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age, “many of our current ways of thinking about and handling information descend from patterns of thought and practices that extent back for centuries.” Her book explores “the history of one of the longest-running traditions of information management— the collection and arrangement of textual excerpts designed for consultation.” She calls them reference books.

Large collections of textual material, consisting typically of quotations, examples, or bibliographical references, were used in many times and places as a way of facilitating access to a mass of texts considered authoritative. Reference books have sometimes been mined for evidence about commonly held views on specific topics or the meanings of words, and some (encyclopedias especially) have been studied for the genre they formed.


No doubt we have access to and must cope with a much greater quantity of information than earlier generations on almost every issue, and we use technologies that are subject to frequent change and hence often new. Nonetheless, the basic methods we deploy are largely similar to those devised centuries ago in early reference books. Early compilations involved various combinations of four crucial operations: storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing, which I think of as the four S’s of text management. We too store, sort, select, and summarize information, but now we rely not only on human memory, manuscript, and print, as in earlier centuries, but also on computer chips, search functions, data mining, and Wikipedia, along with other electronic techniques.

Knowing some of the background on the commonplace book will be helpful:

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

“Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós, see literary topos) which means “a theme or argument of general application”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton‘s commonplace book. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual.

Commonplace books are not diaries nor travelogues, with which they can be contrasted: English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote the 1706 book A New Method of Making a Common Place Book, “in which techniques for entering proverbs, quotations, ideas, speeches were formulated. Locke gave specific advice on how to arrange material by subject and category, using such key topics as love, politics, or religion. Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.” By the early eighteenth century they had become an information management device in which a note-taker stored quotations, observations and definitions. They were even used by influential scientists. Carl Linnaeus, for instance, used commonplacing techniques to invent and arrange the nomenclature of his Systema Naturae (which is still used by scientists today).

[footnote links omitted]

Have you ever had a commonplace book?

Impressed enough by Shane’s post to think about keeping one. In hard copy.

Curious how you would replicate a commonplace book in software?

Or perhaps better, what aspects of a commonplace book can you capture in software and what aspects can’t be captured.

I first saw this in a tweet by Aaron Kirschenfeld.

Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS)

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS)

Home of both ORA and AutoMap but I thought it merited an entry of its own.

Directed by Dr. Kathleen Carley:

CASOS brings together computer science, dynamic network analysis and the empirical study of complex socio-technical systems. Computational and social network techniques are combined to develop a better understanding of the fundamental principles of organizing, coordinating, managing and destabilizing systems of intelligent adaptive agents (human and artificial) engaged in real tasks at the team, organizational or social level. Whether the research involves the development of metrics, theories, computer simulations, toolkits, or new data analysis techniques advances in computer science are combined with a deep understanding of the underlying cognitive, social, political, business and policy issues.

CASOS is a university wide center drawing on a group of world class faculty, students and research and administrative staff in multiple departments at Carnegie Mellon. CASOS fosters multi-disciplinary research in which students and faculty work with students and faculty in other universities as well as scientists and practitioners in industry and government. CASOS research leads the way in examining network dynamics and in linking social networks to other types of networks such as knowledge networks. This work has led to the development of new statistical toolkits for the collection and analysis of network data (Ora and AutoMap). Additionally, a number of validated multi-agent network models in areas as diverse as network evolution , bio-terrorism, covert networks, and organizational adaptation have been developed and used to increase our understanding of real socio-technical systems.

CASOS research spans multiple disciplines and technologies. Social networks, dynamic networks, agent based models, complex systems, link analysis, entity extraction, link extraction, anomaly detection, and machine learning are among the methodologies used by members of CASOS to tackle real world problems.

Definitely a group that bears watching by anyone interested in topic maps!