Literary Foundations II

Commonplacing (Reading Response)

Introduction to Commonplacing

In order to help us read the course texts analytically and prepare for discussion in seminar and in written work, this course will require a weekly response to the readings. But your response will take a form that may be unfamiliar to you—though it was one of the most widespread forms for responding to texts for much of the long era we are studying. The form is that of the “commonplace book”: a collection or scrapbook of “finds,” an assemblage of excerpts, a montage of possibilities for further thought. 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.

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.

Historically the commonplace book was, naturally, a bound paper object. But our own moment has reinvented the commonplace book in online form: the blog. For this class, we will be commonplacing using a blog. Our commonplacing will also be collaborative: each commonplace book entry will be shared with the class. We will use a tumblr group blog for the commonplace book. tumblr’s sensibility, with its emphasis on short excerpts and found materials (quotations, photographs, epigraphs, videos), closely resembles that of the historical commonplace book.

The Weekly Assignment

Each week, choose two passages from the assigned reading that catch your attention as particularly significant, suggestive, or challenging. In your text editor or word processor, copy them 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 note the source for each passage, including author, book title, publisher of the edition you have used, place and date of publication, and page number.

You may write a single short note discussing either or both of the passages. It should not be long: a few sentences or a paragraph at most. You will have occasions to write about your commonplace entries in class and in the papers.

Once you have prepared your commonplace blog entries, you are ready to add them to the book itself. Each week you must do this by Sunday at 8 p.m.

  1. The class commonplace blogs can be accessed at the following URLs:
    LLST2002D (12 p.m. section):
    LLST2002E (2 p.m. section):
    You will need a password to view the site (different for each section). The password will be supplied in class.

  2. Click the “Submit” link under the blog title.
    Submit link screen shot

  3. Paste your commonplace book entries into the submission box under “Submit a Text Post.” (We will not normally be using other types of post in this class.) You need not add a title. Do not yet click “submit.”

  4. Add metadata to your entry: please choose “tags” from the list presented to you: check off “quotation” and/or “commentary” as appropriate, and check off the authors that you are quoting from. Your name, but not your e-mail, will also appear with your post. Entry submission screen shot

  5. Now click “submit.” At this point I will be notified that you have made your blog entries and will mark you down as having completed the week’s reading response. I will then add your entries to the class blog. Your commonplace book entry will have a “permalink” you and others can use to cite it directly.
    Screen shot showing newly added submission

  6. Each week, you should read over the commonplace book the class has compiled together. I will refer frequently to the passages you have chosen in class, and you should too. You will also have multiple opportunities to write on the basis of your commonplacing.

A Note on Attribution

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, the date of the post, and the name of the poster. (You can also add the “permalink” that links directly to a particular post.) Your own re-use or commonplacing of someone else’s act of commonplacing will be most meaningful if you add your own commentary to your citational commonplace book entry.

Supplementary Uses of the Blog

Students are welcome to submit additional materials—articles, images, further passages from course texts or other texts—for the commonplace book as they come across them. Students should use the same process for submitting extra entries.

A Note on Privacy

The course blog is meant to be an extension of the safe space of the classroom: because only those in your section have the blog password, others cannot see your work on this commonplace book. It is not a personal blog; your fellow students and your teacher 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.

If you already have a tumblr account, you may not wish to share it with your classmates when you commonplace for class. In that case, please log out of your own account before going to the course blog to make a commonplace book entry. You can log out from the tumblr dashboard at; click the “power button” at the upper right. The button looks like this: tumblr dashboard power button

On the other hand, if you wish, you are welcome to reblog your own commonplacing work on a public tumblr.

I am happy to answer questions about this exercise at any time.