The Art of the Commonplace Book: An Exhibition of Student Work

The Art of the Commonplace Book exhibit

 “In conjunction with their reading of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, I asked my students in the Spring 2015 Mosaic I: Humanities Seminar to keep a commonplace book of quotations primarily from the assigned texts and ancillary readings in our Mosaic class, but also from their other classes and any outside reading they may have done during the semester.  This could include novels, newspapers, magazines, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media postings, and even popular mediums, such as music, movies, and television.–Richard Orodenker, Assistant Professor, Intellectual Heritage Program

Students from Richard Orodenker’s Mosaic I: Humanities Seminar course in the Intellectual Heritage program visited Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center in March 2015 to learn more about the tradition of keeping a commonplace book.  A commonplace book is any book in which extracts from other works, quotations, and comments are written.  Designed to be both a compilation of knowledge based on its creator’s interests and a memory aid, a commonplace book often includes a wide range of information on a variety of topics, such as politics, religion, and literature.

Student's commonplace book


“I felt that the assignment was an interesting historical correlation to the current trend of tweeting or ‘facebooking’ famous quotes. In my commonplace book I tried to incorporate text and visuals because the quotes that I chose were those that drew pictures with the beauty of their language. I find that a writer’s ability to translate words into mental images creates a wide range of interpretations and emotions for different readers and I wanted to express those images and emotions.”–Keeland Bowers, student.

McGlinn commonplace book title page
Frank McGlinn’s college commonplace book, circa 1935


Several of the commonplace books kept by students in the class, along with a selection of SCRC commonplace books and related materials, are on display during the Fall 2015 semester in three cases in the lobby of Paley Library. Please stop in and see how a visit to the Special Collections Research Center helped to shape this class project, by making the traditional commonplace book the jumping off point for rewarding student projects that incorporate both the old and the new.

-Kim Tully, Curator of Rare Books, SCRC


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