Aristotelian Notes

Thirteenth century textbook of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy. Notes from 13th and 14 centuries. From Public Domain work from British Library. source

In the 13th century a number of texts, primarily those based around Aristotle's work, adopted a "pillared" approach to textual annotation. We will call these Aristotelian Notes. Here we discuss how the system worked and its import.

In the photo we see one such work, consisting of five pillars of notes, arranged so that each note can be at the level of the text to which it refers. A single line of text can accomodate five seperate notes. This is in contradistinction to Textus Inclusus which provided only a system for whole page annotation.

More importantly, Aristotelian Notes differed form Textus Inclusus in that the margin was used not by the scholar or teacher, but by the student. This is particularly remarkable when noting the price of paper at that time -- in the format above less than a quarter of the page is taken up by the text, the majority of the page is a student annotation space. A large portion of this book's cost is due to the annotation interface, not the text.

A third version of this is suggested in the digitisation of writers' libraries. For example, the David Foster Wallace collection at the University of Texas includes the notes DFW made on other people's books, the words he circled in his dictionary. So it's an invitation to try to trace the lines of his thinking. And now these paper objects are embedded in a digitally searchable interface that creates the impression of navigational malleability: go any which way.

Detail from thirteenth century textbook of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy. Notes from 13th and 14 centuries. From Public Domain work from British Library. source