4 Uses of Notebooks Throughout the Ages

4 Uses of Notebooks Throughout the Ages

Imagine that the notebook never existed. History would be very different! This humble item has played an essential role in the elaboration of ideas, scientific progress and the evolution of art.

Great explorers and their travel diaries

Christopher Columbus used a logbook when he discovered America in 1492. Without GPS or maps, the logbook was of vital importance when exploring unknown territory.

But at that time, logbooks couldn’t fit neatly into one’s pocket, they stayed onboard. The oldest known pocket travel diary dates to 1804, when President Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a passage to the Pacific. The two explorers had to write everything down in order to make a full report to the President. During their nearly two-year voyage, 18 notebooks, containing some 5000 pages, were filled by these adventurers (extracts can be found here). Some of them were even bound by leather, cardboard and elk skin.

Meriwether Journal

Lewis & Clark Journal
Head of a Vulture (California condor, Gymnogyps califorianus),
February 17, 1806, Codex J, p. 80
Image Credit : The American Philosophical Society

The notebook: a resource for inventors

The notebook witnessed the inception of many key scientific discoveries and inventions which have shaped our world. More than 4000 pages of scientist Isaac Newton’s notes have been found, providing support for his equations, drawings and theories.

Dessins d'Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton drawings
Image credit : The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Throughout his travels, the naturalist Charles Darwin wrote down his ideas and scientific hypotheses in notebooks, organized by letters of the alphabet. His notes offer insight into how his theory of the origin of species evolved over the course of his research.

The St Helena Model' notebook of Charles Darwin

The St Helena Model’ notebook of Charles Darwin
Image credit : Flickr The Commons

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and sound recording, also evolved throughout his writing. Beginning at adolescence, he jotted down all of his ideas in a notebook, forming the foundation of his thinking (over 3000 of these books were found after his death).

Notebooks of Thomas Edison - the incandescent lightbulb

Thomas Edison Notebook
The Incandescent Lightbulb
Images courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park

A great writer always has a notebook at hand

Before the existence of the typewriter and the computer, important works of literature were written from notebooks that were annotated and marked in pencil. Publishers deciphered them to publish books. Even once the typewriter was invented, great authors like Ernest Hemingway wrote their best quotations in their notebooks. Albert Camus’s notebooks were only used to assist his efforts, yet they exist today in the form of three volumes of autobiographical works.

Ernest Hemingway Last page of the Sun Also Rises from notebook 7

Ernest Hemingway : last page of the Sun Also Rises from notebook 7

From the notebook to a work of art

Leonardo da Vinci is well known for Mona Lisa, however, his engineering plans and anatomical drawings emerged from his notebooks (flip through them here). Van Gogh and Picasso also left their nascent ideas in them. Picasso completed no less than 150 notebooks with his drawings. Notebooks continue to aid artists in their creative pursuits to this day.

Dessins et notes de Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks
Image credit : The New York Public Library Digital Collections

For the past two centuries, the notebook has played a role in important historical events and has witnessed the evolution of the many artists and intellectuals who have transformed our lives. Like these creative individuals, when ideas come to us, our observations overflow or our heads become full of excessive information, we like to use paper to jot everything down. Notebooks are the extension of our memory, knowledge and imagination. So, whether you plan to change the world, create a work of art, or leave for adventure, you will find the right notebook to realize your ambition: Querini, Fortuni, Accademia.

Featured image credit : Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks – The New York Public Library Digital Collections