Monday, September 3, 2012
The History of Outlining
It is often forgotten that outlines are not "natural" in the sense that they indicate a natural way of thinking about matters. They are a highly refined kind of instrument, and just as refined sugar does not occur naturally, so outlines do not occur without refined thinking. Table sugar made from sugar beets has undergone the following process: "the crop is washed and sliced and the sugar extracted by diffusion. The raw juice is then treated with lime and carbonated in a number of stages in order to purify it. Water is evaporated by boiling the syrup under a vacuum. The syrup is then cooled and seeded with sugar crystals. The white sugar which crystallizes out can be separated in a centrifuge and dried" (Wikipedia). Outlines are conventions that are just as artificial. Outlines seem to presuppose techniques that became popular only when paper and printing became a main staple in Western culture. It is sometimes claimed that Ramon Llull (1232-1316) "invented" outlines. I doubt this is true, but his writings certainly popularized this way of organizing materials and it was around his life time that outlines first appeared.