Like many academics, I have a thing for stationery. When you spend so much of your life reading and writing, getting the tools of your craft right become really important. For me, it comes down to a few basic requirements: I don’t want my stationery to be inconvenient or distracting to use, I want to be able to find various kinds of notes easily, and I want to find a product I can repurchase many times if I grow to like it. (I like to think that lining up lots of perfectly matching notebooks on my shelf is a practical matter, but it’s obviously an aesthetic thing too.)
I’m really interested in how other academics manage their work, but I know that some things just don’t work for me. As much as I love the idea of searchable notes, I don’t like note-taking on a computer. I prefer reading to be time away from the screen, and writing things by hand seems to help me process them better. Similarly, I hate electronic to-do lists – crossing things off the list by hand is much more satisfying, even if that means I have to carry a diary around with me instead of syncing everything to Google calendar. For categorising and analysing lots of data I favour digital solutions (I’m not old-school enough for index cards), but for my own notes I still find pen-and-paper the easiest way. I’ve also learned by trial and error that it’s a bad idea to buy beautiful notebooks that you intend to fill only with beautiful, learned thoughts – that notebook will probably sit on the shelf empty. Notebooks should be messy and imperfect, not finished works of art.
The larger A4 notebooks I use for note-taking (Paperchase’s eco notebooks) aren’t always practical for trips to museums and sites, nor do I want to be taking academic notes in my trusty Moleskine diary, where I will probably forget all about them. For quick notes when I’m travelling and taking pictures, I use Moleskine City Notebooks.
The primary reason these little books are so helpful is that they have detailed maps of various world cities, which allows you to figure out where you are without unfolding a huge cumbersome map and feeling like a tourist.
There are dedicated sections for recording food, sights, places to stay, and contact details. The symbols on these pages are quite generic, so you can use them however you like. Noting down good restaurants and cafes has been a great idea for me, especially if I know I’ll come back again on another research trip soon.
The city notebooks also have plenty of pages for notes at the back, so I can document my trips. I got into the habit of writing down the date and time of my visit, and who I was with, as well as a record of some of the photos I took and any other thoughts. Often these notes were minimal, but they turned out to be incredibly helpful later. I often need to know the name of a contact at a particular museum or the exact date of a previous trip to find a photo, for example. Or find that I’m missing some notes or an important photo came out too blurry, and I can easily figure out if I’d been with someone who would have the missing information.
I have city notebooks a few for different areas (my Naples/Southern Italy notes normally go in my Rome notebook, as they don’t make a Naples edition). That means if I need to look up the notes from a particular trip, I know which notebook I need. I can also compare notes from multiple trips to the same location, and figure out what I missed out on last time or what I should see again. Now that I’ve been working on the same regions for a few years, my notebooks have become a fantastic resource for future fieldwork.