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[Detail] Thomas Jefferson

Literature | Literary Commonplace Books | Political Writing | Letter Writing | Epitaphs

Literary Commonplace Books

Literary Commonplace Book, image 416

Literary Commonplace Book, image 416. This page shows a passage from Euripedes written in Greek. Scan the book to find other writers Jefferson included.

One of the series in the Thomas Jefferson Papers collection is Commonplace Books. A commonplace book is not what you might expect from the name. Rather than something ordinary, a commonplace book is a journal or notebook in which a student, reader, or writer compiles quotations, poems, letters, and information, along with the compiler’s notes and reactions. Students from the 1600s through the 1800s were required to keep commonplace books as learning tools. The Commonplace Books series contains two books compiled by Jefferson in his student years. One was a legal commonplace book, compiled while he was studying the law and containing abstracts of important cases. The second was a literary commonplace book, started as a student and maintained until his marriage. In the literary commonplace book, Jefferson included quotations from a wide array of books he read. Entries are in English, Latin, and Greek.

Examine the Selected Quotations from the Thomas Jefferson Papers. Select several of these short quotations to start your own literary commonplace book. Write each quotation at the top of a page; below the quotation, write a paragraph applying it to contemporary American society. What other writers would you feature in your book? How might a student, a reader, or a writer benefit from keeping a commonplace book?