Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Notebooks

Jonathan Edwards had many types of notebooks. Some of them were “Miscellanies,” others substantive notebooks were “Notes on Scripture,” the “Blank Bible,” and “Faith.” In "these he recorded and developed his ideas."[1] But he also had notebooks for planning his life and studies. Kimnach and Minkema call these his “regulatory” notebooks. They contain schedules, lists, memoranda, outlines, and materials for specific projects. "When drafting a major treatise," also constructed "a series of working notebooks to which he committed references, transitions, reminders, even potential chapter titles."

Since paper was expensive, he used and re-used every scrap that became available. Most interestingly, however, he made his own notebooks, "not only to save expense but because it allowed for flexibility of size and arrangement. Edwards’s method, as was common for the time, was stab sewing, in which a needle and thread would be drawn through the assembled pages at the margin, usually in three to five holes, depending on the size of the paper, and knotted at an end hole. Sometimes, perhaps because the sheets were not bound tightly enough or the first stitching had become loose, he added a new set of stitches through different holes. He ran the thread through the holes, connecting them, so that the thread paralleled the left edge of the paper, several millimeters from that edge."[3} he also made the covers of stiffer paper, sometimes adorned with pictures and wallpaper. His notebooks usually had around 98 pages, which he covered with writing on both sides.

Edwards' practice was not at all unusual in eighteenth century New England. Nor was it restricted to New England. European students and scholars used essentially the same technique. What makes Edwards' notebook method special is that he made so many and systematically cross-referenced them. However, even at that, he was not unique. The German writer Jean Paul Richter, who went by "Jean Paul," (1763-1825) outdid him in this by several orders of magnitude.


1. Wilson H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study." The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012), pp. 683-670, 713.
2. Ibid.
3. Kimnach and Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work," pp. 699f.

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