Tag Archives: Research

A Novel Approach to Marginal Notes

As an undergraduate when I was given a free choice to write about a work I often wrote about poetry. Writing about poetry was an easy thing because in a time-crunched-world poetry’s brevity allowed for rereading. When it came to novels I often felt I didn’t notice patterns until well into a book and I wasn’t about to reread an entire novel for a five page paper.

I’ve become a better reader over the years. I’ve also figured out my interests and those interests pop a lot more when I read. The rise of searchable online texts also makes the search for evidence a lot easier. What a time to be alive!

While in graduate school I developed a model of reading and note taking that relied heavily on a system of abbreviated tagging. This was a response to the time crunch, reading for specific class themes, reading for comps, and reading for teaching. I eventually codified many of my abbreviations into a handy chart. As my classes changed each semester and my research interests evolved, so too would the chart evolve.

Abbr Chart Sample

Behold! The Chart! Well, one version of the chart from many years ago.

As you can see, it is made up of a lot of scholarly buzzwords and an abbreviation for the words. As I read, I tagged things I see in the text with an abbreviation in the margins. If what I read in the text was an outstanding example, bizarre, or noteworthy in some other way, then I also tagged it with an exclamation point. Regarding characters or plot, I used the blank space on my chart to record page numbers of note corresponding to those folks and/or plot points. If I was inspired to add additional tag to the chart, then I’d also record that, too.


After I was done reading, or as a break from

Portion of the chart filled out

A filled out version of the chart.

reading, I’d go through my book’s tags and fill out the chart with the corresponding page numbers. I recommend filling in the chart as you go and not waiting to do an entire novel!

I can see the time crunch and exhaustion of the spring coming down the pike. My thoughts turn to my chart. I’m not one to meticulously plan out every detail of my classes, which are discussion based since I try to keep lecture to a minimum. The chart helps as a reference point in class when it comes to discussing specific topics. If I want an example, then I consult my chart, and refer to the tagged section of the book. No searching through minuscule notes or bookmarks. It saves time in the classroom.

One positive about the chart is that it allows for a safety net when students want to lead discussion to unlikely directions. Like I said, I don’t like planning out my classes in excruciating detail. I’ve had far too many experiences where students became animated about an aspect of the text and want to go in a different direction. The notetaking system I’ve developed, in most cases, allows me to follow my students and have a stable of examples or instances from the text that fit their thrust of discussion.

One notable abbreviation is the “T.” That stands for teaching. Those include passages that offer significant opportunities for the classroom. Those might be substantial moments in the text. They might be unusual. They might fit with the theme. You know these moments when you see them. The nice thing about the chart is that the “T” moments can be easily cross-referenced with other parts of the list since everything is recorded in numerical order.

2015-12-08 09.13.58

Sample pages with abbreviated notes.

Using abbreviations in my reading has many practical aspects beyond the ease of notetaking. First, my handwriting is not very good. It is large and sloppy. The abbreviations can be small and neat. The ease of writing helps with the arthritis in my hands. Additionally, when we read we often read through a particular lens geared towards our class or research interests. The abbreviated note taking allows for a marking of the text that isn’t obtrusive. Because the notes are scant there will be plenty of space remaining for future rereading from different perspectives that geared towards other themes.

Over my scant semester break I’m planning to reread the texts for my classes. I’ll be breaking in new versions of texts I’ve read before for other classes. I want to have good notes and references on these works. This model of note taking may not work for you, but I wanted to offer it since many of us will be pressed for time and will reread works over the break—works we might not get to teach until well into the spring semester. Over the break, I’ll be using my chart to take and organize my notes. I’ll also try working with my phone’s native dictation feature to save some time on notetaking. For a more traditional take on notetaking, but with a technological twist, I recommend reading about the dictation/research/notetaking approach used by Kevin Gannon.


1 Comment

Filed under teaching, Uncategorized

So Much Done; Nothing Finished

It is the end of June and I feel like I’ve done nothing. I’m looking at the start of July and behind it looms August. I feel like I’ve done nothing since the end of the spring semester.

I know that is not true, but it is hard to think otherwise. So few projects in academic life can be measured in easily checkmark-able lists of completion; frustration becomes an easy feeling to encounter.

I’ve been to 2 conferences and cobbled together the associated papers for each. I wrote a proposal for a third, doing the required research to cobble that together.

I revamped my CV. I rewrote one version of my job letter, a work in progress, but I’ve used it once already. I applied for a few other jobs and some adjunct work. I applied for two Alt Ac jobs, one of them at a zoo! I wrote new cover letters for those positions and reworked my CV into something that looks sort of like a resume. FYI: Applying to a zoo makes for a wonderful icebreaker at a conference. I’ve revamped my auto-generated emails about jobs from some of the academic job websites.

I revised an article that I’m working on. Revised and revised. Sent it to some peers. I need to keep revising. I’ve tinkered with a second article for revision.

I read a book cover to cover. I’m almost done with another book. I feel like I’ve not really read in a long time. I think I read some journal articles, but I can’t remember. I’ve printed out articles to read. And I will read them.

I spent a day at the Moravian Archives. I spent some time downloading various programs and fiddling with learning code. I’ve fiddled with learning German and trying to figure out how to read gothic German script.

I’ve looked at databases. I’ve figured out how to access databases on the sly. I’ve tweeted and written blog posts.

I’ve thought about what I’ll do in my class this fall. Just one. At the moment. I’m not going to plan it out until I know that I’m actually going to do it.

I’ve networked. And as a result of such networking, I’ve brainstormed a Twitter project on Harriet Beecher Stowe and started a soft rolling out of it. I inquired about the need for a new Stowe bibliography.

I’ve corresponded with a friend about staring an American lit pedagogy blog.

I’ve thought about the fact I’m not being paid to do any of the things listed above.

I’ve worked outside. I’ve planted many, many rose bushes and other plants. Busted sod. Pulled weeds. Cleared brush. A lot of brush. I’m not done with the weeding and brush clearing. I’ll likely never be done with it. However, unlike everything listed above, I can sit back and look at that unfinished brush clearing and think, “I’ve got a lot done!”

Rationally, having listed the above academic work out, I feel a little bit better. Not really. I wish the work we did provided more ocular proof of a path to completion. I wish there was a greater sense of working to a goal being apparent. I wish academic work was like clearing brush.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Archives Update

I wanted to write a post reflecting on my recent visit to the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem. However, I was unsure what exactly to write about in such a post. One part of me wanted to write an excited and rambling post about all of the cool things that I had a chance to look at during my visit. Another part of me wanted to write about some of the answers that I found since writing my original post on the plaque on Bethlehem’s Old Chapel. However, part of me didn’t want to write anything, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I’d like to eventually publish a piece about the Old Chapel’s plaque and the girls’ boarding school in Bethlehem.

Of course, that need to publish is important, especially for an early career scholar like me. However, I’m unsure about how to balance that publication need with writing about my research in progress in a personal blog. I think sharing one’s work is very important for many reasons. First, it gives a public face to the work that we do. Second, writing in a blog provides an opportunity to write publicly and safely experiment with form and voice. Third, and more personally, I do my best thinking when I can think over a topic by writing. I have to think long and hard about my ideas, and I obtain the best results by writing about them and then thinking about them some more.

All that being said, my plan is to formally write up the results of my work. I do have a venue in mind, one that is online, open-access, and also peer-reviewed. My current project would fit well with that venue, I think, and, it also provides a public face to scholarship in an innovative forum, which I believe is not only valuable, but important, too.

Note: I did write a substantially longer post about what I found in the archives. In light of the above issues, I’ll provide the tl;dr version.

1. Tom McCullough, the assistant archivist at the Moravian Archives was beyond helpful. He took the time to translate an important passage for me. He didn’t have to do that. You can read a profile of him here.
2. Yes, I saw awesome stuff.
3. Yes, there is an archival record of the event at the Old Chapel.
4. Yes, there is a world of poetry beyond the event at the Old Chapel worth exploring in relation to the Female Seminary.
5. Yes, there is a world of poetry worth exploring beyond the Seminary and it includes the boys’ school in Nazareth (with their several boxes of poetry) and in the larger community in Moravian Bethlehem (with their several boxes of poetry).
6. German

7. German Script
8. I need to get better at #6 and learn to read #7
9. I have thoughts on my relationship to the digital humanities
10. I’d rather devote my time to #8 and not the digital humanities*
*Sort of. I’ll write more in a follow up post.

I might get into some more specifics of my visit to the archives, but for now I’m going to hold back and see where my research takes me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Moravians, Research