The history of the Commonplace Books goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s believed that the concept originated in ancient Greece and Rome, although they become most popular during the Renaissance and early Modern Period, when students and scholars used them for study.
In 1706, John Locke wrote “A New Method of Making Commonplace Books” where he gave specific advice on how to arrange material by subject and category. Much the way a database may be used today.
Eventually Commonplace Books found their way into private households where they were used to collect recipes, medical formulas, along side informative text.
Many famous thinkers and leaders kept Commonplace Books including:
Thomas Jefferson – kept commonplace books for literary and legal matters. He kept track of quotes and passages from books he’d read.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau – shared a Commonplace Book of poetry. Both were taught how to use Commonplace Books at Harvard.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton – An American Suffragist – kept a Commonplace Books with private notes, correspondence and literary transcriptions.
Patrick Branwell (Emily and Charlotte Bronte’s brother) – kept Commonplace Books that included drawings, quotes, and ephemera collected from his day-to-day.