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Chapter 1

You likely read, and perhaps also write, annotation every day. Annotation influences how we interact with texts across everyday contexts. Annotation provides information, shares commentary, sparks conversation, expresses power, and aids learning. This is why annotation matters.

Published onJun 05, 2019
Chapter 1

1: Introduction

And if you have managed to graduate from college

without ever having written ‘Man vs. Nature’

in a margin, perhaps now

is the time to take one step forward.

—Billy Collins, Marginalia

All the News that’s Fit to Annotate

On April 18, 2019, a redacted version of the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was released to the public by the U.S. Department of Justice. Annotation shaped how the report was shared and interpreted.

Approximately a tenth of the entire report was redacted, or blacked out . Redaction is a type of annotation. To provide a rationale for extensive redaction, the Department of Justice also annotated each redaction according to one of four color-coded categories. According to an analysis by The New York Times, about 70 percent of the line-by-line redactions concerned ongoing investigations (white annotation), almost 20 percent related to grand jury material (red), and the remaining redactions concerned either classified information, such as investigative techniques (yellow), or personal privacy (green).

Figure 1: Mueller Report

In addition to the report’s redaction-as-annotation and annotation-of-redactions, media reporting of the report’s conclusions about possible coordination (popularly referred to as “collusion”) and obstruction of justice did more than offer a summary of key findings. Journalists annotated the report to provide their readers with information, analysis, and commentary. The Washington Post published a page-by-page analysis titled “The Mueller report, annotated,” NPR offered “Highlights from the Mueller Report, Annotated,” and Politico reporters contributed “An annotated guide to the redacted Mueller report,” among other examples. Annotation across these publications varied in detail, scope, visual style, and interactive features.

Over the past few years, leading media organizations have embraced an annotated approach to journalism. Annotation by reporters frequently accompanies political speeches, debate and interview transcripts, the release of legal documents like the Mueller report, and analysis of news conferences. Why the trend? On the one hand, annotation is easy to feature because it’s similar to established journalism practices, like quoting experts, hyperlinking to supporting resources, and presenting media content. On the other hand, annotation goes a step further by illustrating both granular detail and germane context. Annotation allows journalists to comment more transparently, to more informally share behind-the-scenes or insider perspectives. Annotation is also proving to be an effective fact-checking strategy.1

Journalistic interest in annotation is not confined to politics. Following Ta-Nehisi Coates’ successful turn authoring Marvel’s Black Panther comic, The New York Times published “Captain America No. 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Annotated.” This online article featured exclusive previews of the comic, insider commentary by Mr. Coates as head writer, and a few spoilers for good measure.2 In 2017, the Times also featured the author Margaret Atwood annotating key episodes and scenes from the TV adaption of her celebrated novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet in both form and function, how different is annotation in The New York Times Magazine’s “Talk” interviews, a featured introduced in 2019, from Listrius’ annotation of Erasmus’ Moriae encomium, “a standard appendage to the work” since the 1515 Basel edition?3

That which is fit to print - be it the news, or social commentary, or religious doctrine - has for centuries been fit for annotation, too. While it’s not newsworthy to observe that journalism is changing rapidly in our digital era, it is distinctive to note how annotation traditions and conventions are reinvigorating journalism as more connected, more interactive, and more relevant.

The ways in which, and the reasons why, journalists annotate represents but one small set of practices within the broader genre of annotation. Marginalia thrived in England during the sixteenth century, as studies of book culture during the rule of Elizabeth I and James I demonstrate.4 Annotated books were routinely exchanged among scholars and friends as “social activity” throughout the Victorian era.5 Some of the most significant commentary about the Talmud, first written in the eleventh century, has been featured prominently as annotation in print editions since the early 1500s. Today, scientists’ annotation of the human genome and proteome for large-scale biomedical research relies upon techniques that are both similar to and also very different from linguists and historians who have translated, annotated, and digitally archived Babylonian and Assyrian clay tablets.6 From the annotatio of Roman imperial law to the medieval gloss, annotation nowadays helps people to write computer code, evaluate chess games, and interpret rap lyrics.

Perhaps annotation has already appeared in this book, too. Annotation is a form of self-expression, a way to document and curate new knowledge, and is a powerful means of civic engagement and political agency.

Annotation provides information, making knowledge more accessible. Annotation shares commentary, making both expert opinion and everyday perspective more transparent. Annotation sparks conversation, making our dialogue - about art, religion, culture, politics, and research - more interactive. Annotation expresses power, making civic life more robust and participatory. And annotation aids learning, augmenting our intellect, cognition, and collaboration. This is why annotation matters.

You likely read, and perhaps also write, annotation every day. Whether handwritten or digital, this book will help you to define, identify, and author annotation. More importantly, this book will discuss five essential purposes of annotation that contribute to cultural, professional, civic, and educational activities. Annotation is written within the warp and weft of our texts, patterning the fabric of daily life. This book will help you to understand how that happens and why that matters. We’ll start by introducing a key idea that appears throughout this book - annotation is an everyday activity.

An Everyday Activity

The Scottish author Kenneth Grahame, best known for his novel The Wind in the Willows, observed in an 1892 essay, “The child’s scribbling on the margin of his school-books is really worth more to him than all he gets out of them.”7 Imagine your high school literature course. Or picture those classic scenes from Dead Poets Society. Maybe your English teacher assigned Toni Morrison’s Beloved. While reading, perhaps you highlighted key passages, noted plot devices, and commented on structure and dialogue. How else to comprehend two chapters, back-to-back, famous and famously unconventional, both of which begin “I am Beloved and she is mine.”? You might have shown these annotations to your teacher - “you see, I did the reading!” - or used them as references when writing a final paper. Or do you recall jotting down formulae for molecules and compounds in the margins of your chemistry textbook? Writing to students in 1940, the American philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler declared, “Marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”8

What is everyday about annotation in school? Annotation may have been an expected or required academic practice. You’ve likely annotated as a part of many different courses and inside many different texts. Maybe annotation in school helped you to develop an idiosyncratic notation system that you still use today. Or maybe you were taught a more formal convention. Annotation happens every day in school and is an everyday activity for students, for “at every stage, students working with books have used the tool of annotation.”9 And graduation from high school or college probably didn’t get you off the hook; as we’ll discuss, annotation is an everyday activity for many professionals, like journalists, programmers, scientists, and scholars.

But we’re not all scientists or scholars who annotate as a part of our job. Let’s bring this idea of everyday annotation a bit closer to home. Some of us may fondly recall measuring the height of a child against a doorframe, making a small pencil mark, and then writing down your child’s name and the date. Or maybe you were that child and this family ritual also helped you to practice writing your name while growing up. As you, or your child, aged, so too did these measurement marks travel upwards, edging ever closer to the upper frame. This, too, is an act of everyday annotation, stretched over time and etched with love. While this type of annotated measurement might not have happened every single day, it did record an aggregate of day-to-day changes. And the annotation - the marks, the names, the dates - served as a visual and daily reminder of growth added to the text and texture of life.

Annotation is an everyday activity whether it makes journalism more viable or schooling more valuable. Annotation is an everyday activity whether it contributes to scientific discovery or catalogues a child’s growth. Annotation is an everyday activity because different types of notes, whether political commentary or a child’s name, are added by many different types of people - journalists, programmers, parents and children - to a variety of texts, like transcripts, and code, and even a door jamb. In these cases, and in many others discussed throughout this book, it isn’t our prerogative to suggest which examples of everyday annotation are more or less remarkable (and yes, pun intended). Rather, it is our job to highlight how these various types of annotation share five common purposes - to provide information, to share commentary, to spark conversation, to express power, and to aid learning. Annotation makes knowledge more accessible, perspective more transparent, discourse more interactive, authority more contested and complex, and education more vibrant.

Defining Annotation

As print culture developed in Renaissance Europe and books become more widely available to a reading public, so, too, did “marginal material” flourish and serve various purposes. During the 1500s, annotation added details and examples to books, and provided references, corrected or objected to an author’s statement, emphasized importance, evaluated arguments, provided justification and translation, and even parodied the text, among other functions.10 It wasn’t until 1819 that Samuel Taylor Coleridge first used the term “marginalia,” from the Latin marginalis (or “in the margin”), when, as a literary critic, he wrote about another author’s work for Blackwood’s Magazine.11 Were you to ask more contemporary scholars about annotation, they might suggest annotation facilitates reading and later writing, the ability to “eavesdrop” on other readers, that annotation provides feedback and opportunities for collaboration, and “call[s] attention to topics and important passages.”12 And when Sam Anderson wrote his 2011 essay What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text, he recalled experiencing annotation as additive, useful, social, a means to collaborate with a text, and as “meta-conversation running in the margins.”13 Then again, a computer scientist will tell you that annotation means labeling data - images, text, or audio - for the purposes of identifying, categorizing, and training machine learning systems.

So how to define annotation? Merriam-Webster defines annotation as “a note added by way of comment or explanation.” And the Oxford English Dictionary echoes with: “A note by way of explanation or comment added to a text or diagram.” In this book, we’ll take an even simpler approach and define annotation as:

A note added to a text.

We’ve settled upon this definition because it gives us flexibility to explore the broad genre of annotation, both handwritten and digital, textual and visual, from different periods of time, and that serve different cultural and civic purposes. You might notice that unlike the standard-bearing dictionaries, our definition does not include the terms “comment” and “explanation,” denoting two annotation purposes. And that’s because, in our assessment, annotation serves five equally important, and sometimes overlapping purposes: Providing information, sharing commentary, expressing power, sparking conversation, and aiding learning. Our definition of annotation will allow us to explore wide-ranging issues of authorship, intent, and expression.

Most immediately, our definition of annotation requires us to ask - and answer - three questions. First, what is a note? Second, what does it mean to add? And third, what is a text?

Figure 2: A note added to text

What is a Note?

Notes, according to literary scholar Andrew Piper, are “records of the quotidian.”14 In our earlier examples of everyday annotation, we featured various types of notes. A note can be a word, phrase, sentence, or even extended prose written in a textbook or cookbook. Some scholars have argued that signs and nonverbal codes are not notes, that notes must be discursive and responsive.15 However, to embrace the full repertoire of annotation we also suggest that a note can be a symbol, like a question mark, exclamation point, or an asterisk. Copyediting marks are notes, and so too tick or tally marks like those added to the Lee Resolution, or The Resolution for Independence, passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. The Lee Resolution features 12 marks tallying the “united colonies” that voted for American independence.

Figure 3: Lee Resolution

Notes help mediate the relationship between reading and writing. For Piper, notes are “silent embers,” indicating “where the often mind-numbing, repetitive mundaneness of our daily lives bump into the high-flying acrobatics of human intellect.”16 In 1947, a high-flying moth bumped into Harvard’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator, was removed by computer operator William Burke, and then taped to the computer log - popularizing the existing term “debugging.”

Figure 4: debugging

To discuss what counts as a note and how notes work, we need to introduce a new idea - multimodality.

With roots in rhetoric and semiotics, the concept of multimodality has long influenced how we understand and participate in acts of communication. A full theoretical review of multimodality is beyond the scope of this book. For our purposes, it will be sufficient to start by explaining how different forms of media are characterized by different types of modes. Earlier, we mentioned Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Beloved is a book, and books are a category of media. In the case of Beloved, this media artifact uses a textual mode of communication between Toni Morrison, the author, and you, the reader. Of course, media in the same category can feature different modes. Children’s picture books and your coffee table book featuring landscape photography exemplify a visual modality, whereas books written in braille demonstrate the importance of a tactile mode.

To further understand the relationship between media and mode, let’s briefly revisit two examples that we’ve already mentioned. Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been narrated by the actress Claire Danes to create an audiobook, another type of media, which allows for communication with listeners via an aural modality. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the lead writer of Black Panther, worked alongside a team of illustrators and colorists who, together, created a series of comic books (yet another type of media) that communicated with readers through both textual and visual modalities. Furthermore, both The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Panther demonstrate how a specific text can be adapted from one type of media to another; the former from a book into a television show, the latter from comic books into a feature film. And when that happened, the primary modality of both texts also changed to favor a visual mode.

Just like different types of media communicate through various modes, so, too, do notes communicate through multiple modes. As records of the quotidian, words, symbols, images, and even animated GIFs may all be notes that communicate through a textual mode, or a visual mode, or an aural model. When we discuss what counts as a note in this book, and when we describe how notes function in relation to a text, we do so with multimodality in mind. Annotating Beloved in literature class likely meant adding textual notes to a book that also communicated through a textual mode. Alternatively, adding textual notes to an image, or vice versa when adding a doodle or an image atop a text, suggests that the concept of multimodality - or what Piper describes as the “multidimensional” qualities of notes - will help us to examine notes and their relationship to annotation.

Consider all the various media you interact with every day - books, newspapers, magazines, and comics (including these texts’ digital versions), as well as movies, video games, podcasts, and social media. Your daily media diet likely features various modalities: Textual, for the media you read; visual, for media you watch; tactile, for media you touch, like touch screens at a restaurant or museum; and aural, for your favorite podcasts. Have you ever noticed annotation associated with this media? If so, what do these notes say and through what modalities do they speak? If, as Piper suggests, notes are “technologies of oversight,” then as multiple notes are added to a text over time, it’s likely that a group of notes will come to demonstrate the multimodality and multidimensionality of annotation. Importantly, notes are not only written; notes, in our view, may be more than words.

What Does it Mean to Add?

We now understand what notes are, how notes function, and that notes are multimodal. Let’s survey a few records of the quotidian in a variety of everyday scenarios. You’re reading a favorite book, jotting words and symbols in the margins; this is your “private exchange” with the author, a means of “talking back to” the text.17 An educator reads a student’s essay and returns it covered in red-inked copyediting marks, or does the same using a digital annotation application. You and a colleague use collaborative word processing software to write a report for colleagues in your organization, a version of augmented intellectual work anticipated by, among others, the inventor and Internet pioneer Douglas Engelbart in the early 1960s.18 In these instances, we recognize the importance of idiosyncratic meaning-making, how a student’s first draft is improved through expert feedback, and how a report is co-authored thanks to professional processes. The addition of notes while reading a book, revising a school assignment, or authoring a report communicates an important message: To add a note is to act with agency.

The word agency is traced back to the Latin verb agō meaning to act, to do, or to make. In our discussion of annotation we’re not referring to the type of organizational agency that makes stuff, like an advertising firm or a government bureaucracy. Rather, we’re interested in how an individual or a group acts and makes stuff, as when copy editing an essay or collaboratively writing research. And when doing so, it’s likely that people will annotate, that they will add some type of note to a text, that they will author a “responsive kind of writing permanently anchored to preexisting written words.”19 Our expansive view of annotation suggests notes are not only responsive writing (notes might be GIFs), and also that more than written words are annotated (buildings can be annotated, too). What really matters, in this discussion of agency, is the fact that when a note is added - when people exercise agency in different contexts, under a variety of circumstances, and for many purposes - an annotation is permanently anchored to a text.

What does it mean to add? Adding is to act with agency. When we discuss annotation in this book, agency means that someone has permanently anchored a note to a text.

What is a Text?

This book you’re reading - whether printed on paper and bound together, or as a digital epub - is a text. We’ve mentioned a lot of texts so far: Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Panther. We began our introduction by referencing multiple news articles written by journalists and published by media organizations; those articles are also texts. If you’ve made it this far into a book about annotation, then you’re likely familiar with a diversity of material and digital texts. In forthcoming chapters we’ll discuss medieval manuscripts, religious scripture, works of art, hashtags, computer code, legislation, and all manner of images - they’re all texts, too.

What makes something a text? First, a text has an author. Someone, or maybe a group of someones, authors a text by writing, composing, speaking, drawing, or through photography. Second, a text is defined by its content. A text conveys a “main message.” Some would say that texts have a “body,” and that texts are distinguished by a given style or subject. As we’ve discussed, texts are also defined by different forms of media; one text is a comic book, another a film. And texts communicate messages through different modes including, as with comic books, multiple modalities at the same time. While different types of annotation like marginalia, glosses, and rubrication have historically appeared as notes within books (as we’ll discuss in Chapter 2), the breadth of what we count as a text is a reminder that annotation may be permanently anchored to much more than books.

The features of a text should resonate as familiar given something you’ve likely authored today, if not quite recently - a text message. You’re the author of the text message. To author your text message, perhaps you wrote words, or used an emoji, or included a photograph or GIF. The content, or the body, of your text quite literally conveys a message: “Here’s the book I recommended,” or “Let’s go see a movie this weekend.” And depending upon whether you composed with words, or with emojis, or with images, your text message communicated through a textual mode, via a visual mode, or maybe with multiple modalities.

Why discuss the qualities of texts and this example of text messages? For two reasons. First, the defining features of a text - an author, message, structure, and style - are similar to the features of notes - which are quotidian, include both words and signs, and are multimodal. Both texts and notes can take the form of different media and communicate through different modalities. The second reason is this: the interplay of a note added to a text can best be understood by introducing the concept of intertextuality.


Intertextuality is essential to further articulating annotation as a note added to a text.

Simply put, intertextuality describes the relationship between texts. A relationship between two (or more) texts might be established for the purposes of comparison, or alliteration, or interpretation, or as a means of fact-checking or critique. In some cases, an intertextual relationship may be explicit. This book, so far, has referenced Beloved and Black Panther on multiple occasions to help illustrate key ideas. In doing so, we’ve begun building a series of intertextual dialogues among these texts. In other instances, an intertextual relationship may be implicit. For example, there is both implicit and interpretive intertextuality among James Joyce’s Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey, as well as between the Odyssey and the Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Of course, the idea of intertextuality is a bit more complex than just explicit or implicit references among texts. The Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, writing throughout the 1930s and 40s, suggested that the nature of language is dialogical. He argued that both written and spoken language is always in dialogue with other texts and authors. We agree with Bakhtin’s view. What you write and what you say is dialogical because it’s responsive to other people (like a teacher or colleague), other texts (like the Odyssey), as well as other ideas (as when, for example, you hold a sign or chant during a protest). And because we embrace the idea that written and spoken language is dialogical, we can now suggest that annotation - the addition and permanent anchoring of a note to a text - is dialogical, too.

Not only is annotation dialogical, we can also observe that all annotation is intertextual. And rather than take our word for it, let’s be expressly dialogical and put our book and ideas into dialogue with another text and set of ideas. Figure 4 includes a quote by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. In addition to this quote, we’ve exercised our agency - to express our authorial power, to spark a response from you - by annotating Derrida.20 Here, in dialogue with one another, is what we have to say about intertextuality and annotation. And maybe you, too, have something to say.

Figure 5: Derrida

So what does Derrida mean by annotation helping to prop up one discourse on another? Let’s revisit a few of the examples we’ve already discussed. When journalists annotated the Mueller report, annotation established an intertextual relationship between the report (as one “discourse”) and other discourses or dialogues, such as referenced evidence, an expert’s analysis, or established fact. When you annotated Beloved in a literature course, you created an intertextual relationship between Toni Morrison’s book (her discourse) and your own discourse comprised of reactions and wonderings. And your annotation of Beloved also added marks of evidence for when, subsequently, you were in dialogue with peers and your teacher. Just as annotation is multimodal, so too is it intertextual.

Annotation in Action

We’ve now established that annotation is an everyday activity. It’s likely that you read and write annotation regularly, perhaps on a daily basis. We’ve also introduced the ideas of multimodality, agency, and intertextuality, and suggested that the act of adding notes to a text is both multimodal and intertextual. As we close this introductory chapter, we’ll do so by sharing one more example of annotation in action. And rather than reference other texts or present hypothetical scenarios, we’ll turn our gaze inward and describe this very book.

Annotation was integral to how we wrote and received feedback about Annotation, how The MIT Press published the book, and how, perhaps, you’re reading and responding to the book right now.

The first full draft of our manuscript was shared publicly for the purposes of open peer review by The MIT Press using the online publication platform PubPub. Throughout the summer of 2019… [ADD SUMMARY OF OPEN PEER REVIEW PROCESS, INCLUDING TOTAL PARTICIPANTS AND ANNOTATION, EXAMPLES, ETC.].

This book, in its published form, also features various forms of annotation. The MIT Press has established a number of structural conventions that are consistent across all the books published as part of the Essential Knowledge series. As you may have already noticed, this book includes a Notes section just before the Bibliography (it starts on page XXX). This section of Notes is a collection of annotations. Organized by chapter, Notes presents to you, the reader, a total of 208 endnotes that we felt were important to add to the body of our text (even if, at times, it’s difficult flipping back to these endnotes rather than reading more proximal footnotes21). In addition to Notes, this book includes a Glossary of key terms (see page XXX). We’ll discuss the origin and purpose of glosses and glossaries next, in Chapter 2. All glossaries are a curated list of annotations, and that goes for the Glossary in this book, too. Finally, just before the Index, this book includes suggested Further Readings. As researchers of literacy and learning, we’ve read and written quite a bit about annotation. We’ve selected a list of readings that we hope you might put into further dialogue with our book as you continue to explore annotation. In appending these Further Readings to this book, we’ve added yet another note to this text. Together, the Glossary, Notes, and Further Readings provide three different types of annotation that are integral to this text, adding both structure and insight for you, our reader.

And speaking of our readers, what of your annotation? Have you underlined or circled a word or phrase? Have you written an interlinear annotation, such as a word or symbol between the lines of text? Or have you added marginalia, a responsive type of discourse? And have you cursed us out, or called us names, or disagreed vehemently with our ideas? If you’ve yet to do so, now might be the time! Maybe you’ve borrowed this book from a friend. Marking up this book makes your thinking visible, allowing your friend to someday see what you thought about annotation and how you responded to our ideas. Or maybe you’re reading this book for a class or as part of a research project. Annotating this introductory chapter about annotation may help you to experience multimodality, exercise agency, establish intertextual relationships, and expand dialogical language among other texts, people, and ideas.

We don’t believe a published book is meant to live as a pristine artifact unadulterated in perpetuity. As Mortimer Adler wrote 80 years ago, the marked up book is the “thought-through book,” for it is “a conversation between you and the author.” And we certainly haven’t written the final word about annotation. We’ve hopefully written some useful words about an important topic so as to start a dialogue. We welcome your words and annotation throughout, about, within, and atop this text, too.

Figure 6: Dialogue

Why is Annotation Essential?

Annotation is essential because we interact with a variety of texts everyday, texts that are both digital and material, and texts that communicate through various modalities and may also be multimodal. We interact with these texts dialogically by adding our own thoughts, questions, reactions, and reminders. Annotation is also important because our intertextual interactions with texts cross multiple contexts - the personal, the academic, the professional, and even the commercial and civic: “Printed marginalia, functioning at their most creative level, open doorways specifically, insistently for the purpose of crossing the text-context threshold.”22 Annotation follows us into, and then changes because of, the different ways in which we interact with texts across everyday contexts.

Annotation matters because it provides information; knowledge becomes more accessible because of annotation. Annotation matters because it shares commentary; perspectives become more transparent because of annotation. Annotation matters because it sparks conversation; dialogue becomes more interactive because of annotation. Annotation matters because it expresses power; authority becomes more contested and complex because of annotation. And annotation matters because it aids learning; education becomes more vibrant because of annotation. We’ll be discussing all of this, and more, as we explore how and why notes are added to texts.

Mo Pelzel: One might also introduce the term “intratextuality” as distinguished from “intertextuality.” The former refers to cross-references within a single text, whereas the latter involves references between or among different texts.Annotation could involve both, I think. A note as such is intratextual … it is anchored to one specific text. But that note could itself contain a reference to another text, thereby introducing intertextuality. And, of course, that further text might be made accessible through a link, giving us the category of hypertextuality.
Mohit Malhotra: Uses of annotation in journalism
Anna Murveit: dfsdfasdfsdf
Jeremy Dean: Love this!
Jeremy Dean: Let me start this part for you. “For example, the annotated contributions of Dr. Jeremy Dean, to whom we dedicate this book…”
Jeremy Dean: While I use this line myself all the time (as salesman essentially), your repetition of the idea has finally given even me pause: there as so many assumptions in this idea that everyone annotates. While it’s likely true for the readers of an MIT Press book and maybe fine as such, there are obviously many people who don’t and for reasons that often have to do with power.Just one example is that some public school teachers often don’t allow students to write in the margins of their books because they will be collected and reused.
Jeremy Dean: Should this section be above the one on note and add?
Jeremy Dean: I think it’s interesting to bring in social media behavior here. What is Instagram but “everyday” visual notes on our lives?
Jeremy Dean: I wonder if the above three paragraphs are really necessary to get here.
Jeremy Dean: Great quote!
Jeremy Dean: is document a strong enough word here? create?
Jeremy Dean: Footnote needed?
Kevin Hodgson: I wish I could annotate directly on top of the images you have created but I don’t seem to be able to do that (no fault of yours .. just an observation). If I want to digitally annotate your images (like the one below), I need to move outside of the text and then share back into the text …
Kevin Hodgson: Yes
Kevin Hodgson: It’s strange to read this in the present, with echoes of the future, reaching back to the past. Of course, it has to be written that way, but it feels, here in the margins, like some odd time ripple. I am here, writing about what you say has already been written (and I may even be too late in the process). Time for more coffee …
Kevin Hodgson: This seems important — that the reader has a role in the text with annotation … either by themselves or with others.
Kevin Hodgson: ?
Jenae Cohn: Ah, yes, here’s mention of the orality component. Could be cool to circle back to the historical side of things to this end. When it comes to discussions of Western spiritual texts (particularly the Torah in Jewish tradition), “oral” annotation, so to speak, was considered far more sacred than written annotation (especially since you can’t write on Talmudic scrolls)
Jenae Cohn: Maybe this will come later in the book too, but I’m wondering whether there is room for discussion here on how often annotation is explicitly taught in schools? To what extent do teachers actively ask their students to engage in annotation activity? Or do students pick up annotation in a more idiosyncratic way?
Jenae Cohn: More accessible to whom exactly? And where does the concept of accessibility, from a disability perspective, fit in here when we talk about annotation?
Kevin Hodgson: Great question …
Steel Wagstaff: I wonder whether perhaps this section or at least your proposed definition of annotation might not be more useful if it occurred earlier in a reader’s experience? Shortly before getting here I went back and scoured the first sections of chapter 1 and the preface in search of a foundational definitional of annotation and wasn’t quite sure I could offer a working definition for your crucial term as you wanted me to understand it!
Steel Wagstaff: It also serves as an outlet for dissent & disagreement, even if only privately!
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Expresses power, as in, annotation is an expression of power? I would think that annotation is more an expression that bypasses power: The author / publisher is the powerful voice & annotation is commentary over which power has no control. I suppose that's what you mean below by annotation contesting power.
Steel Wagstaff: Great visual example from Wikimedia:
Steel Wagstaff: Great visual example from the Babylonian Talmud here:
Steel Wagstaff: This feels a bit more optimistic that I think is warranted. Annotation in journalism seems to me to trending toward very limited, expert-only voices interacting with texts. It might be helpful to balance this trend against a reflection on the rise and decline of ‘comment sections’ on news and other public websites (lots of sites have killed public comments/annotation in the last 5 years), and the relationship between bottom of the page comments (‘page notes’) and anchored annotation/marginalia? See + + + + + + +
Steel Wagstaff:
Steel Wagstaff:
Steel Wagstaff:
Steel Wagstaff:
Troy Hicks: In particular, the technologies that we have at our disposal for accessing — and annotating — texts matter a great deal. Even if we have robust tools, we may not always know how to use them in the most productive ways, or to communicate our annotations to a wider audience.
Troy Hicks: Yet, in many ways, they still do… even in our e-book, editable, and constantly interactive world of texts, eventually a book has to stand alone in the world. One reader’s interpretation of that book (via annotation) is a unique and beautiful act, and many readers can discuss the book, but the book (which could be revised later) still stands alone.
Troy Hicks: Going to your point above that some works of literature/film can have “implicit and interpretive intertextuality,” I don’t know that my current practice of annotation on your manuscript is something I would put into this intellectual register. That is, I am annotating, but I don’t know that I am really creating the kinds of intertextuality described by literary theorists. I am making some links, adding some images, and sharing my own ideas, yes. But, I am not writing another book here, making tacit or overt references to your ideas, or mimicking your structure or style. All this is to say, I think that you might want to make your argument on intertextuality a little more nuanced… are there different “levels” of intertextuality that happen, depending on the quality and type of annotation?
Jeremy Dean: >But, I am not writing another book here…Why not? How do you know!?
Troy Hicks: Keeping with my thread from above, if students are being told that they must annotate… I wonder if they are truly acting with agency, and engaging in genuine work of annotation. Or, are they merely fulfilling their assignment? In short, I am afraid that the practice of having students use reading strategies to approach texts, while useful in many ways, can become a mindless exercise filled with many, many sticky notes and few genuine interactions with the text itself.
Jeremy Dean: Agree with the above. I wonder though if just complicating our understanding of agency and power in these annotation contexts might allows the focus on agency to remain, just complicated. Another complication: the various platforms in which annotation can happen are themselves not neutral. Even the margin of a page of text has certain limitations and expectations…
Troy Hicks: Perhaps an additional pair of questions: By whom? For what purpose?
Troy Hicks: Yet, for decades, students have been explicitly told not to damage or otherwise deface their textbooks (see page 17 in this PDF of a district policy).
Troy Hicks: While I can agree that annotations in school are, for some students, common practice, I would encourage you to be more nuanced here. For some students, who are willing and able to take the teacher’s shared notes, outlines, or slides (or, go so far as to make photocopies of their textbooks, they might engage in the kinds of personal and useful annotation practices you describe. For the vast majority of students, however, I would argue that annotation (if done at all) is perfunctory. They are given specific texts and tasks, and required to make so many notations in trade for a grade. The “required” part of your definition, then, could use some elaboration and, to extend the idea, some clarification on whether or not the process of annotating is, ultimately, useful for these students. Moreover, connecting to your next idea, how can we help students learn to annotate in a way that honors and extends their own “idiosyncratic notation system[s]” in productive, engaging ways?
Jenae Cohn: Seconding Troy’s thoughts here. It would also be interesting to consider the role of medium here and how that’s considered in schools (if at all). That is, annotation itself as a practice may be very different in print and in digital spaces. Is education a space where that nuance is approached? (Not sure if this is necessarily the right place for this particular conversation, but I think there’s more nuance for the school-based context as Troy suggests).
Chris Aldrich: Another good example is the built up genealogy of family bibles inscribed with the names of owners and their family tree which are passed from one generation to the next. To some extent this is highlighted by the passages of the bible in which W begat X begat Y begat Z begat... (Genesis chapters 5 & 11).
Chris Aldrich: These sorts of ancient and modern genealogies also heavily underpinned personal, familial, tribal, and governmental power structures through the ages. Paternity was power.
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Chris Aldrich: A well known popular culture version of this appears in the title of the book and film *Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince* as well as a primary plot point in which Potter actively eschews a beaten up copy of a potions textbook, but to his pleasant surprise find a heavily annotated text that helps him significantly in his studies.
Remi Kalir: Yup, see Chapter 6 and our seventh note ;)
Chris Aldrich: I can't help but think of one of the biggest and longest standing puzzles in mathematics in Fermat's Last Theorem. He famously wrote in the margin of a book that he had a proof. but that it was too large to fit in the margin.
Remi Kalir: Yes! We really like this example, too, and wondered where to strategically include in the book. Ultimately, we're still searching for the right place or moment to mention Fermat… as you read the book, perhaps you can suggest where it may be best to include this example.
Chris Aldrich: Google has accelerated this by using search to better link pieces of knowledge in the modern world, but scholars have been linking thoughts manually for centuries.
Chris Aldrich: Surprisingly, these have only been recently aggregated online at [Sefaria]( a story delineated here:
Remi Kalir: Yes, we mention this and link to Sefaria in Chapter 3 when discussing the Talmud and commentary.
Chris Aldrich: Other great examples include teaching and scientific progress. Owen Gingerich details annotations in all the extant copies of Copernicus in his text [The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus]( There it seemed obvious that the moving state-of-the art of science and teaching was reflected in the annotations made by professors who handed those annotations down to students who also copied them into their textbooks.
Remi Kalir: Wonderful, we'll include this book in Further Readings.
Chris Aldrich: In some sense this is a textual equivalent of the directors commentary tracks on DVDs from the 1990's in which one could watch films with overdubbed running commentary of the film's director (and often cast, producers, et al. as appropriate).
Chris Aldrich: The first time I recall seeing such journalistic annotations was on the web in The Smoking Gun ( which generally annotated court documents that were the source of newsworthy tidbits—generally relating to celebrities or gossip pages.
Remi Kalir: Great example, and perhaps one we should explicitly mention.
Remi Kalir: copyediting, will do
Chris Aldrich: remove space
Chris Aldrich: rm space
Heather Staines: So, let’s say I cringe when writing on the paper and use post-it notes instead, would that not count under your definition? Because it can be removed so isn’t permanent? Pencil annotations can be erased.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Permanently anchored? Even in the case of digital annotations? I'm thinking of something like where an annotation is tied to a webpage, but only for users of; no one else can see them. Or annotation in e-readers like Kindle, where the user can turn off the functionality to view others' annotation. I guess what I'm saying is that it might make sense to discuss what "permanent" means in this context.
Heather Staines: This is very much the case for me. And this has also evolved over time, as the purpose of my reading has shifted.
Heather Staines: I’m sure that you will also discuss the value of annotation for personal/private use also.
Heather Staines: Maybe even the next paragraph. Ha!
Heather Staines: It would be fantastic to have the links to these items here in the text. Do you plan to add that later?
Troy Hicks: I agree with Heather. The link to the NYTimes annotated/searchable version of the Mueller Report would be a good example.
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Nate Angell: And other texts: the doorjamb with a child’s growth marks, William Burke’s computer log, a building annotated with graffiti, etc.
Nate Angell: Loving the stress on agency here. In this context, thinking how notes become a physical manifestation of agency that may occur otherwise without record, like that voice in my head while reading that keeps saying things like “WTF?” or “Exactly!!!!!!).
Remi Kalir: Maybe there’s a connection here to your earlier concern regarding the “deterministic effects attributed to annotation.” People have agency. People are exercising their agency when adding notes to texts. And when that happens, annotation serves five purposes (as we suggest here in Chapter 1 and explore throughout the book) and it is those annotation purposes that consequently have certain effects… is that helpful?
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Nate Angell: This moth should become the mascot of multimodal annotation.
Nate Angell: ?!* couldn’t resist!
Nate Angell: Again: maybe “enable” would be a better choice?
Remi Kalir: Yes, as noted above, we can easily revise throughout.
Nate Angell: Related to my note above about power in annotation, I feel I need to post a concern here that I’m on the watchout for deterministic effects attributed to annotation as a general technology/practice — rather than to specific social deployments of annotation practices. Each of these outcomes seems like a _possible_, but not _required_ outcome of annotation in specific contexts.
Chris Aldrich: I’d agree. Annotations are a tool and can be used for both positive and negative outcomes. Related somewhat to my bible example above, one could view the individual texts of the New Testament as annotations to the Hebrew bible, in which case they changed a movement from being a religion *of* Jesus to a religion *about* Jesus—one which not coincidentally makes him one of the best known people to have ever lived (see: In the case of my earlier genealogical example, the books of the New Testament go back and parallel the lineages of the Old Testament to draw a direct line from King David to Jesus spanning roughly a 1000 years. This is seemingly suspect for a man who would have most likely been an illiterate and poor carpenter, but certainly served the purposes of Greek, Jewish, and Aramaic writers of the time, particularly against the ruling patriarchy of Judea and Rome at the time.
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Nate Angell: This slightly negative characterization of annotation is a bit jarring as so far we readers have not been presented with a negative view of annotation.
Remi Kalir: Helpful, thank you.
Nate Angell: This sentence made me pause. I certainly think the first clause is worthy, but I’m not sure the the second must always follow. I expect you’ll get into power more later in the book, but based on what I’ve read so far, this seems like a very strong statement to make.
Remi Kalir: Yes, a strong statement to make. Can we revisit this once you’ve read Chapter 5?
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Nate Angell: Is the idea that this sentence might link to a way to see possible annotations on this book?
Remi Kalir: Antero and I have thought a lot about how to create an annotation experience with this manuscript, in both digital and print form, and how that experience can *enable* ongoing conversation. This open review helps to check the box for digital interactions, trails, and spaces. The custom illustrations in every chapter ideally invite reader interaction with the print text (once the book is in hand). And the dedicated hashtag #AnnoConvo will hopefully become another “place” to archive some of that activity. For example, perhaps a future reader annotates one of the custom illustrations - like Fig 5 in this chapter - and then photographs their book/annotation and shares via social media with the #AnnoConvo tag.
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Nate Angell: For other examples of annotation being used in the sciences, see ClinGen (, NIF (, the Qualitative Data Repository (, and SciBot ( I could connect more dots to these or intro folks how know more.
Remi Kalir: I didn’t know about ClinGen, thank you! QDR is featured in Chapter 2 in our section “Information among Knowledge Communities.” And SciBot is featured in Chapter 7 when we ask, “How should we read human-machine annotation?”
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Nate Angell: Starting to seem like I only care about em dashes ;) but I think this would read better set apart with em-dashes ;)
Nate Angell: Consider replacing throughout with real em-dashes: — ;)
Remi Kalir: Copyediting - will do ;)
Nate Angell: Maybe addressed elsewhere in the text, but it would be nice to see some other examples of fact-checking here. comes to mind, or for a meta-example, Poynter’s “What to expect from fact-checking in 2018”, annotated later to evaluate their predictions ( There are likely more…
Remi Kalir: Thanks for these suggestions, Nate. Climate Feedback is featured in the final section of Chapter 3 (and I hope you appreciate the particular example of peer review that we highlight!). The Poynter resource is great, perhaps that becomes an endnote here?
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Nate Angell: This sentence is tripping me up with the comma and no “and”. Maybe the comma is more like a colon or em-dash, something like: “Annotation enables journalists to comment more transparently — to share behind-the-scenes or insider perspectives more informally.”?
Remi Kalir: Yup, a change for clarity. Or maybe also including the word “and” between clauses?
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Nate Angell: Whenever I see “allows”, I always wonder if “enables” might be a better word choice. Here I think so…
Remi Kalir: Yes, thank you. We can adjust throughout. That’s a very important distinction related to your broader comments regarding agency.
William O'Byrne: Love this. In my work, I view “Text” as being very broad. And “notes” on text…or annotation should/could add value to that intersection. One of the features that I wish I had in a tool like Hypothesis (I guess I have it in Vialogues/VideoANT), but I would love to annotate these different texts, and connect the dots across those spaces. Connect a note on a video to a note on a wikipage to a note on a tweet.
Kevin Hodgson: Using annotation to connect across multiple texts and multimedia texts/compositions would make more visible thinking, engagement, and agency of the annotator. Perhaps this is yet to come …
William O'Byrne: Making me think about affordances of different forms of text (images, hyperlinks, GIFs, video, text) and what that adds or detracts from the text.
Troy Hicks: This is interesting… if we take an image (or GIF, or other item) that someone else has created, and insert it into our own annotation, have we made it “our own?” Remixed or repurposed it? Can that be considered an annotation, in the sense that we are adding value to the text, or really just a comment of little consequence?
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William O'Byrne: Loving multimodality in here…also the connection to “embers.”
Troy Hicks: I, too, appreciate that you are already layering in multimodality, even in some print-centric examples of annotation. In addition to the ideas you are offering about multimodality here, I would also encourage you to look at the seminal work of Gunter Kress, for instance Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication.
William O'Byrne: I’ve viewed these annotation practices (e.g., Hypothesis) as having “discussion about the text baked into the text.” This has the potential to provide a third space for not only dialogue, but growth in a variety of areas.
Kevin Hodgson: I’d be curious to know more about the concept of annotation as a “third space” — is the idea that what unfolds in the margins becomes its own, distinct text that can be separated from the original but still stand on its own?
William O'Byrne: Along with these trends, we do see some that do not value the use/inclusion of annotation on their publishing spaces as they view it as another form of commentary about their work that may modify/limit points made.
William O'Byrne: This is also making me think about power, access, and digital literacy/savvy. When I first introduce people to Hypothesis, some of their responses are about the fact that “anyone can annotate online” and “on the spaces they already read.” Some view this “invisible layer” of annotation on the Internet as questionable/problematic.
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William O'Byrne: Interesting thought. I’ve always viewed annotation as “additive” or generally positive/beneficial for all. I’ve thought (perhaps it’s my own bias) that redaction is a negative…but now that I’m typing this I realize (I think) that redaction is a type of annotation…and annotation/redaction always benefits someone…it just might not be you. :)
Remi Kalir: In this respect, you may be very interested to see our discussion about power and redaction in Chapter 5.
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Bud Hunt: Boom!
William O'Byrne: !!! I cannot add a GIF here?!?! :) Exactly…having discussion about the text…baked into the text.
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Bud Hunt: I hope you’re including a mention of Jasper Fforde’s use of the footnoterphone as a tool for conversation across the book world he created in his Thursday Next series.
Remi Kalir: Might you share a specific link/resource, Bud? Thanks!
Bud Hunt: But what really, <i>really</i> matters is that the act of making the note is frequently an act of talking back to the text, of recognizing and/or remembering that the author of the text you’re reading isn’t the only person with something to say, and that what they’re saying may not be the last word on the subject.
Troy Hicks: Bud’s point here about “talking back to the text” is important, and I think that we could employ other prepositions as well. What does it mean to talk to the text? About the text? Beyond the text? Within the text? Through the text? Annotation can serve all of these purposes, when approached strategically.
Bud Hunt: I was gonna say that if I didn’t see a discussion of Marginalia in this book somewhere, I’d be disappointed. So you lead with a poem ‘bout it. Well played.
Remi Kalir: If you’re looking for a formal definition of marginalia, as a particular type of annotation, check out Chapter 2 where as also discuss rubrics and rubrication, scholia, and other “forms that inform.”
Shea Swauger: Librarian approved
Shea Swauger: The first annotation I really remember interacting with was all A/V based: VH1 Pop Up Videos and Director Commentaries on the DVD Extras section for movies I liked.
Kevin Hodgson: Hmm. Me, too, but I didn’t even think about Director Cuts/Commentary DVDs as annotation until you mentioned it