This article describing JS Mill as an 'inveterate annotator' prompted me to ruminate on the place of scribbling in the margin.
Obviously it's a tremendous coup to be able to see the internal workings of a mind like Mill's. But his motivations for annotating - to 'marshall all of the information' he was reading - and what it shows about him - his gut reaction to what he read, his vacillating opinions and his more evolved judgements - can apply to us all.
It made me think about when I first began teaching, and how militant I was about students not writing on photocopies. I mean MILITANT. Spurred by a dwindling budget, I stood at the door and inspected each returned copy. Obviously there were scribblings that were more Anglo-Saxon in nature, but more often than not they were students who just liked to underline the odd word that took their fancy, draw an arrow from a picture to the relevant text, or to colour in the turret of a castle because that's what we decided was a really important defensive feature.
These were students just marshalling the information they were given - making sense of what they were being exposed to - just as Mill was.
I'm glad to say I'm now living openly as a scribbler and doodler myself. I prefer to print heavy-duty material off and highlight what interests, intrigues or puzzles me. I annotate in the margin to take points further, link them to what I know, or to ask questions. It's a visceral, calming and helpful process, that means I digest far more of what I'm reading than I would have by reading alone. The trees, the ink, the planet - I know. But there's some tough topics and themes for which only scribbling will do.
About the Author
Julie Murray is Education Licences Manager at CLA, which means she trains and educates licensees in schools, further and higher education institutions about CLA licences and how they fit in to the wider world of copyright. Prior to working at CLA, Julie was Head of History and Politics at an 11-18 comprehensive in London.