This article describing JS Mill as an 'inveterate annotator' prompted me to ruminate on the place of scribbling in the margin.
Obviously it's a tremendous coup to be able to see the internal workings of a mind like Mill's. But his motivations for annotating - to 'marshall all of the information' he was reading - and what it shows about him - his gut reaction to what he read, his vacillating opinions and his more evolved judgements - can apply to us all.
It made me think about when I first began teaching, and how militant I was about students not writing on photocopies. I mean MILITANT. Spurred by a dwindling budget, I stood at the door and inspected each returned copy. Obviously there were scribblings that were more Anglo-Saxon in nature, but more often than not they were students who just liked to underline the odd word that took their fancy, draw an arrow from a picture to the relevant text, or to colour in the turret of a castle because that's what we decided was a really important defensive feature.
These were students just marshalling the information they were given - making sense of what they were being exposed to - just as Mill was.
I'm glad to say I'm now living openly as a scribbler and doodler myself. I prefer to print heavy-duty material off and highlight what interests, intrigues or puzzles me. I annotate in the margin to take points further, link them to what I know, or to ask questions. It's a visceral, calming and helpful process, that means I digest far more of what I'm reading than I would have by reading alone. The trees, the ink, the planet - I know. But there's some tough topics and themes for which only scribbling will do.