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Where the rituals of academic life are concerned, there are few exercises as rudimentary, at once essential and banal, as taking notes. A student goes to class and reflexively pulls out a spiral-bound notebook, scribbling furiously to keep pace with the lecture. A scholar produces copious marginalia in an essay or book: in this sense, his or her library is not so much a collection of volumes on a shelf as an archive of palimpsests. Field notes are the preferred literary genre of anthropologists, linguists, and sociologists venturing beyond the walls of the ivory tower; art historians visit museums and galleries with notepads at the ready. Over the course of a lifetime, a professor goes through hundreds of reams of paper in an effort to “get it all down,” whether “it” is registered through pencil, pen, or keystroke…

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