OneNote is merely the modern version of a Renaissance concept.
The commonplace book isn’t a common thing these days, but it was once, er, common. Programs like OneNote might see a revival of the idea though, perhaps, not the name.
A commonplace book was an early form of ‘scrapbook’ where people would keep quotations or sayings.
The Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library has a classic example of the commonplace book compiled in John Milton’s own hand.
These days programs like OneNote give you a place to collect not just quotes, but web links, pictures, video and audio plus you own text in one place.
Once they are in OneNote, you can re-arrange and search for them much more easily than John Milton could with is small paper volume.
Microsoft spends a lot of time promoting collaboration and sharing features in OneNote but that can obscure the core advantages of the program. OneNote is designed to let be a collection point for various items in a less structured way.
A ‘modern day Milton’ could use OneNote to copy in excerpts and inspirations from many places as well as jot down lines and phrases of his own. Later on he can return to those notes and use them for a complete original work.
Since OneNote is now included with many versions of Office 2010, it is worth checking out.
The British Library is well worth a visit, it’s a quiet oasis compared to the many more crowded London sights. Aside from John Milton’s commonplace book there’s Jane Austen’s writing table and notebook, Lewis Carroll’s diary, Pinter’s annotated first page of ‘The Homecoming’, Capt. Scott’s Antarctic diary (open at the famous page where Oates leaves the tent), Magna Carta, handwritten lyrics from The Beatles, among many exhibits. Oh yes, notebooks with writings and drawings from some guy called Da Vinci.
If you’d like to read John Milton’s commonplace book (it’s mostly in Latin) you can go to OpenLibrary.org