Why salad of herbs?

Leaves and flowers in salad

Credit: “The Art of Salad” by Chiot’s Run, on Flickr

This is a compilation of shorter pieces and collected resources related to the practice of learning in higher education, looking particularly at the practice of learning by writing in public.

The title comes from the Wikipedia entry for the Commonplace Book, an informal on-the-go scrapbook that was once a way of people keeping track of little things that mattered to them.  One version of this was the zibaldone of the 15th century, about which Wikipedia has this lovely stuff to say.

During the course of the 15th century, the Italian peninsula was the site of a development of two new forms of book production: the deluxe registry book and the zibaldone (or hodgepodge book). What differentiated these two forms was their language of composition: a vernacular. Giovanni Rucellai, the compiler of one of the most sophisticated examples of the genre, defined it as a “salad of many herbs.”

Zibaldone were always paper codices of small or medium format – never the large desk copies of registry books or other display texts. They also lacked the lining and extensive ornamentation of other deluxe copies. Rather than miniatures, zibaldone often incorporate the author’s sketches. Zibaldone were in cursive scripts (first chancery minuscule and later mercantile minuscule) and contained what Armando Petrucci, the renowned palaeographer, describes as “an astonishing variety of poetic and prose texts.” Devotional, technical, documentary and literary texts appear side-by-side in no discernible order. The juxtaposition of gabelle taxes paid, currency exchange rates, medicinal remedies, recipes and favourite quotations from Augustine and Virgil portrays a developing secular, literate culture. By far the most popular of literary selections were the works of Dante AlighieriFrancesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio: the “Three Crowns” of the Florentine vernacular traditions.[6]These collections have been used by modern scholars as a source for interpreting how merchants and artisans interacted with the literature and visual arts of the Florentine Renaissance.

So this is commonplace collection of thrown together bits and pieces, assembled for students I’m working with at the moment, and open to anyone to share. If you’re looking for Music for Deckchairs, it’s over here.

Kate Bowles

August 2013


5 thoughts on “Why salad of herbs?

  1. I sent this link, tagged #clmooc, to Terry Elliot, writing center director and a facilitator at mooc hosted by the National Writing Project. Connected Learning has been mostly PD for K12 teachers but includes a number of higher ed writing writing instructors…and a lone activist blogger who sometimes wonders where her own voice is, not just speaking for others but also spread across do many audiences. Your post puts me to thinking (yet again) about knit threads together on a single blog. A meta blog among the multitude.

    I like the salad of herbs image and refer to ‘2dy’ (an extremely informal text file) my common place book. An eclectic mix, it’s mostly for to-do (and even more ‘oops didn’t do’) lists, reminders, links, image urls, addresses. scattered observations and other random notes to self. In some ways, it’s more like a laborer’s day book, a habit I picked up from working in a construction yard with contract welders and continued through years of teaching riding.

    Years of teaching writing, especially to emerging writers, cautions me against pushing the unready into public blogging before they are ready. Yes, it’s about real safety (teach GED and developmental writing at a CC and you will see students wearing dark glasses to midday classes) but also psychological space – writing rooms of their own. Perhaps reluctant sharers could start with a more modest versions (there own day books that they could opt into or out of sharing by entry.

    Thinking on it, the process is not unlike novice riders taking that first canter or swimmers letting go of pool rail or paddle board and venturing into deeper water. Readiness, timing, instinct – and not the same for everyone.

  2. Hi Vanessa, so lovely to see you here — and thanks for the connection to Terry. I’ve been following the #clmooc discussion a bit.

    Your questions and concerns lie where my thoughts are drifting, and the laborer’s day book is a really useful image for me. Different disciplines manage this differently — I know that many social workers and health professionals use journalling as a matter of course, and designers keep scrapbooks. But plenty don’t do anything, and that’s the thought I’m having — why not? what, if not?

    Partly this blog comes very slowly out of trying to answer the question about “why do you blog?”, which seems to me always focused on “what do you have to say and how do you build your audience?”. For me, the answer is always “Um, well, I blog to have a place to keep things for me.” Very, very slowly I realised that blogging is a collecting practice for me, and that I want to try to explore a bit more openly how this relates to writing itself — writing as/within a collecting practice.

  3. I am thinking that Facebook is the new zibaldone for many. Or part of their salad of herbs anyway. I have used blogs in exactly the way you describe–a combination of automatic collecting with IFTTT and semi-automatic collecting using Diigo bookmarks and autoblogging. Of course Evernote is the place where all of my marginalia go to die, but that is another story.

    Nice to see the reference to Dante as I have been thinking a lot lately about the wood of error and Virgil and Beatrice. So where do you go from here with your commonplace jottings: heaven, hell, or purgatory? Don’t get me started on Limbo!

    • Speaking of bits and pieces, Dante – Virgil and Beatrice – reminded me of a post by Sean Michael Gallagher (mlearning) on both as guides for different stages in learning. I tagged meaning come back to later to comment.  Turns out they feature in a number of posts, but this is the one I was looking for, http://michaelseangallagher.org/need-for-guides-in-open-learning-virgil-and-fitzgerald-as-instructional-facilitation/

      “Some of these learning activities we can perform ourselves (and often do); the process, however, is enriched with instructional presence. Heightened, augmented, what have you. Dante had two models in his wondrous and terrifying journey. The conceptual Beatrice, a conceptual apparition supporting his emotional quest and Virgil supporting his intellectual one. These two are the instructional presence. The guide. Not a bad model for open learning.

      Whether or not you are interested in mobile learning, if you are interested in spatiality, place – especially cities, and literary weaving in, Michael’s blogs are treats. He started out teaching English, so there’s another connection. And his photos are gorgeous. 

      As intrigued as I was by Dante and zibaldone, the Wiki references took me another direction, to the Commonplace Book in American history (mouse over citation link #8) and its relationship to reading as well as media, information filtering, and blogging – and blogging to those. 

      Blogging in the Early Republic: Why bloggers belong in the history of reading http://www.common-place.org/vol-05/no-04/mcdaniel/index.shtml


    • What I really like about the zibaldone is the vernacular and low nature of it all. I’m also interested in the craft practice of scrapbooking (not interested in the sense of doing it, but interested that it’s there, and has become such a business). These aren’t illustrated manuscripts passed among an exclusive few by monks, but the kinds of folk wisdom passed on through families. It’s a nice way to think of blogs as personally curated spaces in which to think. Certainly when I think about my own blogging, it’s been much more about curated reading than a platform for my opinions.

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