When slogging through assigned readings for class, it is easy to forget that books and articles are merely tools for conveying ideas. Instead of reading to understand, we often end up reading for the sake of reading. Dry, complex subject matter only worsens the problem—your mind wanders, you zone out and time is wasted rereading passages. As an antidote to ineffective reading, many educators advocate “active reading.” Active reading entails mining a text for information instead of glancing at it passively, considering and questioning the ideas presented within, and making links between the text, prior knowledge, and related works.
One of the best ways to form the habit of active reading is to write notes in margins of texts. Some people are understandably squeamish about marking up their books, but in reality, annotation is a learned tradition of ancient pedigree.
The Tradition of Marginalia
For as long as there have been books, humans have been annotating them. In Greek texts from as early as the fifth century BCE, there is evidence of “marginalia”—notes written in the margins. Marginalia can also take the form of decorative illustrations, the most famous examples being the designs that adorn the margins of medieval European manuscripts. Spectacular marginal illustrations account for the fame of The Book of Kells, a copy of the Gospels written and illustrated by Irish monks sometime around 800 AD.
The Book of Kells
Marginalia penned by famous individuals provide glimpses into their mental universes. Our understanding of numerous historical figures has been influenced by the marginalia they left behind, including Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, and John Keats. Marginalia, moreover, is not a tradition limited to the west. In eighteenth-century China, the Qianlong Emperor was infamous for “improving” (defacing?) precious, ancient works of painting and calligraphy by scrawling poetry on top. Considering its rich history, it is no surprise that marginalia is now a subject of academic inquiry in its own right, with H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (2001) widely considered the seminal work in the field.
Marginalia in the Digital Era
Bringing the tradition of marginalia into the 21st century, mobile applications such as PDF Connoisseur allow the user to scribble notes on electronic copies of books and documents. PDF Connoisseur makes reading more efficient and interactive than ever before. Users can highlight, underline or strikeout text, as well as insert text boxes, sticky notes, and freehand drawings.
PDF Connoisseur for iPad
The “image to text” function (OCR), allows readers to convert scanned PDFs into searchable, editable word documents, so that key information can be pinpointed and reorganized into personalized notes (or for a standalone PDF to Word converter, try PDF WordSmith for Mac and iOS). When your eyes are tired after a long day, select the Text to Speech function, kick back, and let PDF Connoisseur read aloud to you.
Reading has long been a social, interactive activity. One of the motives for pre-modern marginalia was the sharing of interpretation and opinion among friends and colleagues. PDF Connoisseur advances this tradition by making the sharing of annotated texts easier than ever. After reading and annotating, users can transfer PDFs via Wi-Fi, USB, or cloud services.
Finally, librarians and bibliophiles need no longer fret over permanent damage to books, as notes in PDF Connoisseur can be easily erased. For those who prefer to read on their laptops or desktops, PDF Reader is now available for Mac. Armed with Kdan Mobile’s tools for PDF reading, take up the ancient tradition of marginalia and reach new heights as an active, effective reader.
Happy reading! 🙂
Any comments, tips or ideas you’d like to share? Leave below and let us hear it!