Introduction to commonplacing

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In order to help us read the course texts analytically and prepare to discuss them in class and in written work, this course will require a weekly response to the readings. Instead of writing interpretations, however, you will be following a practice with a history dating back to the Renaissance: commonplacing. To make a commonplace book, you compile and organize excerpts from your reading. A reader who is commonplacing looks for passages of text—short or long—which catch her eye, either because they are interesting in themselves, or because they spark a connection to some other reading she has done or problem she has been thinking about. When she finds such a passage, she copies it over—copying helps to fix the passage in memory—into the commonplace book. Sometimes—but only sometimes—she writes a comment of her own as well. But mostly she is assembling a scrapbook, a collection of “finds,” as a montage of possibilities for further thought. When she goes on to do her own writing, the commonplaces are there, ready for use.

Over time, then, your commonplace book becomes a record of your own particular reading—not just a checklist of volumes consumed but an account of your special interests, your favorites and idiosyncratic pleasures, your questions and insights. And a commonplace book is also a resource: it holds those parts of the book that you think you may want to use again, to quote, to imitate, to criticize, to write about. Think of the ordinary meaning of “commonplace”: a phrase that gets repeated by everyone. A commonplace book is a source of material for reuse. In this class, the material will be a source for you to use in your writing about the course texts.

The blogging assignment

Historically, the commonplace book was a bound paper object, only sometimes shared. But our own moment has reinvented the commonplace book in a wide-open online form: the blog. This is how you will commonplace in this course, using the Sakai blogging tool.

When the syllabus says to “Commonplace” for a given day (usually once a week, sometimes twice), you are required to blog by 5 p.m. the day before class. This is to allow your instructors and your classmates time to see what everyone is writing on the blog. In the best case, you will have finished the reading by then; but if you are only part of the way through, you can still complete the assignment. In any case, you should commonplace as you read, not after you have finished: the knowledge that you have to choose passages to blog should help focus your reading attention.

Choose at least two passages from the assigned reading that catch your attention as particularly significant, suggestive, difficult, infuriating or otherwise interesting. Make a note of them. When you are ready to post, log into the course Sakai site.

Finding the Sakai blogs

On the Sakai home page, click the link on the left for “Blogs.”

The Blogs link on the Sakai home page

Adding a blog entry

From the Blogging page, click the button labeled “Add blog entry.”

The Add blog entry button

Preparing the blog entry

In your text editing program or in the Sakai post editor, copy each passage over. This step is important. Type the text carefully, getting a feel for what it is like to write the words you are thinking about. Carefully record the source for each passage, including author, book title, publisher of the edition you have used, place and date of publication, and page number. (After you have cited a text once, you can use a shorter citation, with just author, title, and page, in future entries.)

The Sakai post editor

Then make very brief notes—not complete sentences, just single words or phrases, about the importance of each passage. Think of this as tagging or adding metadata to the commonplace entry.

You may also write a single discursive comment. It should not be long—a few sentences or a paragraph at most. The discursive comment is optional.

Or: copying and pasting

You can prepare your entries in Sakai’s built-in editor, or you can use a different text editor and then copy and paste the text into the Sakai editor:

Preparing a post in TextEdit on a Mac

Do not use Microsoft Word to prepare the text for copying into Sakai. Pasting from Word will produce many formatting problems on the blog. Use a text editor, not a word processor: text editors are programs like TextEdit or TextWrangler on Macs and Notepad or Notepad++ on Windows (all free).

Submitting a blog post

When your post is ready, including the passage and the citation, click “Publish entry.” Make sure that you choose the option to make the post visible to “All members of this site.” You cannot get credit unless your post is visible to the whole class.

The submit button

A note on privacy

The course blog is meant to be an extension of the safe space of the classroom: because only those in the course can access Sakai, others cannot see your work on this commonplace book. It is not a personal blog; your fellow students and your instructors can see what you write, so you must write appropriately for this context. But neither your work of selection and commentary nor your name will be publicly available beyond our class.

Commenting and blogging more

You are not normally required to do more than make these regular commonplace posts. But you are strongly encouraged both to read others’ commonplace books and to comment (appropriately and thoughtfully) whenever you like. The aim of this assignment is to give you a tool that will enhance your reading of these texts and give you a springboard to discussion, paper-writing, and the exam. You are very welcome to blog more than is required.

Commenting on a post


Just as you must note the source of each passage, if a passage someone else has chosen sparks an idea for you, you are free to reuse that passage in your own commonplacing or in your papers. But because the act of selecting a passage is a critical act, you must attribute that act to its source. Because each commonplace entry is a blog post, you have an easy way to cite: you need only mention the URL of the blog post, together with the date of the post and the name of the poster. To obtain a URL for citation, click the “Permalink” hyperlink underneath the post on the Sakai blogs screen. And then copy the link from the location bar of your browser into the text of your own post.

Copying the permalink

Your own re-use of someone else’s act of commonplacing will be most meaningful if you add your own commentary to your citational commonplace book entry.


Individual commonplace entries will not be graded, only checked for timely completion. You will receive no credit for an entry that is not posted by the 5 p.m. deadline.

You will occasionally be asked to write more on the blog, either by commenting on others’ commonplace books or added your own analytic discussion. These exercises are also ungraded.

Your semester’s work on the commonplace book counts for 5% of your final grade. You can receive one of the following three grades for this work:

In anticipation of the inevitable technical hiccups, however, there will be no late penalty on the first week’s commonplacing assignment.

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