How often have you been deeply immersed in the worlds of Middle-Earth, Narnia, or Dante’s afterlife, and were so struck by a passage that it resonated within you as you paused your reading, for just a few seconds? How about pouring through Aquinas, Kreeft, or Lewis? I can’t even guess how many times they drove home the climax of a point such that I rushed to find some paper to jot it down for future reference. For many of us, prodigious reading is a key part of our lives. Whether we are reading to educate ourselves or simply to get lost in someone else’s world, we often come across ideas, particularly quotations that a part of us wishes we could retain forever.
Many of our forefathers held this same sentiment, and began the practice of keeping a commonplace book. For those new to this idea, a commonplace book is a physical storehouse where one records information of all kinds: memorable quotations, the seeds of ideas for future novels, outlines of books previously read. In fact, this once common practice among academic powerhouses has seemingly fallen out of favor in recent decades, but claims a pedigree of many notable men who held its value, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Milton, and Marcus Aurelius.
Many of us studying at HACS will one day write a thesis, scholarly articles, or even books. It’s important that as we read for our studies, we are recording information that strikes us, so that we can refer to it in the future. Dr. Mahfood once stressed the importance of a quotation database to assist us in our future writings. I humbly suggest we take that one step further, and “database” all sorts of information. To help us with that effort, I would like to introduce “Evernote,” a digital commonplace of-sorts that can catalog quotations, pictures, videos, websites, sound clips, and anything else you can think of.
The core program is a Windows/Mac-based software program that you access from your desktop. Upon opening, you’re given a column on the left with labels for notebooks and tags. Notebooks are where all your files are stored, and tags are how you label them for future reference. For example, under my notebooks, I simply keep an “Already Tagged” notebook (indicating that I have labeled the resource for future reference), as well as a “NEW ITEMS” notebook, where documents await tagging.
What sorts of resources do I load into Evernote? Most of my files are outlines of books that I have read, which I typed up in Microsoft Word, and drag-and-dropped into Evernote. I also store web pages, photographs, links to Papal Encyclicals, class presentations, old homework, etc.
Two key features make Evernote invaluable: Tagging and Annotations. Every time I load content into Evernote, I “tag” it with a few keywords. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll see that I have a number of folders for “Apologetics,” and nested under that title are sub-tags which can be nested as many times as you would like. If I clicked on the Mormonism tag, it would list all my apologetic resources that have to do with Mormonism. You can assign one or many tags to each piece of content. For example, if I searched for the tag “Aquinas”, I would find any resources that have the word “Aquinas” in its title, its content, or its tagging. So not only do tags allow you to build a hierarchical structure of your resources , the search function allows you to search across tags, by keyword.
The second key feature is the annotations. For each piece of content you load into Evernote, you can make notes that are attached to that particular content. These notes would be similar to an annotation that you would place in a bibliography, and they are forever attached to that content for quick reference.
The functionality of Evernote shines further when you utilize two of its most popular bolt-on apps: the Web Clipper and the Mobile App. Evernote has a Web Clipper that sits as an icon on your web browser and allows you to “clip” or save a few lines of text, a whole article, or even a whole webpage to Evernote. For example, I often use the website StumbleUpon for new ideas. When I find one I like, I click the Web Clipper icon, tell it which folder to clip it to (“NEW ITEMS”, in my case), and voila, the resource is saved in my Evernote, ready for me to tag and file.
Another invaluable bolt-on is the mobile app (available for Apple, Android, Windows, and Blackberry phones). This app gives you access to all the information available from your desktop application and allows you to add content “on-the-fly.” Are you walking through the streets of Italy, and see something you need to remember, simply open up the app, snap a picture, add an annotation if you’d like, and that resource is now part of your permanent Evernote collection. One of the strongest features of Evernote is that all your information is stored on Evernote servers, and each app or tool syncs with each other, so you always have the most updated data between all devices.
Let’s summarize what Evernote gets you: A place to store ideas, thoughts, quotations, audio-visual media—readily accessible from a variety of stationary and mobile devices, with the ability to annotate your resources, organize them hierarchically, keyword search through their content, all while feeling secure that if your hard drive crashes, the Evernote servers will still keep safe this most-treasured of resources, your digital commonplace book. For those who, like me, are collecting material to one day use in their writings, I invite you to give Evernote a try. Spend some time searching the web for Evernote strategies, and you will find a wealth of information on how others are successfully using the program.
Evernote Link: http://evernote.com/
Web Clipper Link: http://evernote.com/webclipper/
Mobile App: Search through your phones native app program
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.