Three: History & Examples

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century.


The following all had/kept commonplaces:

  • Charles Darwin
  • Francis Bacon
  • Ben Jonson
  • John Milton
  • Mrs Anna Anderson
  • E.M. Forster
  • John Locke
  • W.H. Auden
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Washington Irving
  • Victor Hugo
  • Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton, a mathematician and physicist, used a “Waste Book” to write his initial conceptualization of the calculus. A digitized copy of this commonplace is held at the University of Cambridge and is freely available to view online.


This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich