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Marginalia is the act of writing in margins.

We underline (particularly if we are students or harried book-reviewers). Sometimes we scribble a note in the margin. But how few of us write marginalia in Erasmus's or Coleridge's sense, how few of us annotate with copious rigor. - George Steiner, The Uncommon Reader

Le Souffleur by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1734

A Definition

The act of writing in margins is perhaps as old as the act of writing itself, but it has evolved in fascinating ways since the dawn of its inception. Still, a definition of marginalia for this project inheres a purpose. I wish to examine one of the the most fundamental media of human communication - the way that we interact with our own ideas through texts by writing on them. Ultimately, I wish to argue that true marginalia is dead. Since an argument of such a grand scale must include, admittedly, sweeping characterizations of the changes in societies over time, I am employing a broad definition of marginalia. I hope to use this project as a vehicle for understanding theoretical changes in the way that society archives its own thoughts through technology. And so this dossier is more of a structure for a debate than it is a specific rendering of a certain medium. With that said, I define marginalia as the act of writing in texts. Delineated below, this includes the most candid scribble as well as structured annotation and bibliographies. I invite and encourage expansion of this definition.

The Early Literate Elite

Forms of Marginalia



Reader's Signs


Footnotes & Citation

Paper Production

Benjamin? Palimpsest Scarcity techniques

Mediatic Etymological Approach

What Is It About Books?

Marginalia as an Archaeology of Ideas

documenting ideas through changing technologies

The Contemplation of Death