Zettelkasten Forum


How do you process historical sources with a Zettelkasten?

My working method is similar to what @pgrhowarth has described here: In short, I always have to refer back to the original sources, in addition to my own ideas and conclusions. And this is not a personal choice, but a requirement of my profession. But the "output" of a Zettelkasten, as far as I understand it, is a chain of associations of my own ideas, not some kind of source Wiki.

But I need both and more: on the one hand, I need to relate my sources to each other, i.e. "who quoted whom", "who learned from whom", "who wrote letters with whom", etc and all based on the originals. On the other hand, I want to process my ideas and thoughts on quotations, excerpts, themes, etc. in a Zettelkasten. But beyond that, I need to make sure that my Zettel always refer to the sources from which they are inspired.

The question I have is: what is the best way to do this? Do I need two "boxes", one for the verbatim quotes with sources and a proper Zettelkasten for my ideas? If so, how do I connect the two boxes? Or should I do "double bookkeeping" and always write the original quote and source on each Zettel?

To reiterate: I know how a wiki works, and I think I also know how to set up a Zettelkasten; what is not yet clear to me is how to connect these two systems.

Comments

  • I think as a historian you just genererate an additional layer. Most other profession to not investigate the source itself (e.g. a chemist doesn't need to know about the connection of theology and alchemie and how the religious infrastrukture was a hub for alchemy; a mathematician doesn't need to know about beef between collegues as a motivator for their achievements). You also try to develop understanding about the exact events that happened.

    That doesn't change anything about how you use the Zettelkasten Method. Just the content of the notes. You still use arguments, hypothesis, models etc. (https://zettelkasten.de/posts/reading-is-searching/)

    I think you benefit a lot from explicit and conscious layering: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/layers-of-evidence/ (which is, by the way, heavily inspired by the rigor historians put to sources)

    Up to this point I have two sets of items: The first one is knowledge items as layed out in the above article on reading. The second set is for stories: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/zettelkasten-fiction-writing-part-2-elements-of-story/ Perhaps, you might have to develop your own set of items specific to your need as a historian?

    I am a Zettler

  • Thank you for your answer, but to be honest, I am more of a hands-on person and understand such things better through concrete examples. But I'll try to use your terminology.

    So you are saying that I need two different systems; some sort of Wiki in which I connect the "phenomena", i.e. the sources themselves, and a Zettelkasten for the "interpretation". Is that right?

    If that is the case, then my question still remains: how to connect these two systems.

  • @nurso said:
    … But the "output" of a Zettelkasten, as far as I understand it, is a chain of associations of my own ideas, not some kind of source Wiki.

    It is not a question of either/or but both. A ZK contains a spectrum of ideas and links. A spectrum of idea associations that call for links. From purely independent ideas to developing others' ideas to ideas that others have had about ideas. Some notes are cataclysmic and struggle to contain the burst of your ideas, and some spill out the history of Medieval knitting. All these may be important in the development of new and novel ideas. You impoverish your ZK by neglecting any part of the spectrum.

    But I need both and more: on the one hand, I need to relate my sources to each other, i.e. "who quoted whom", "who learned from whom", "who wrote letters with whom", etc and all based on the originals. On the other hand, I want to process my ideas and thoughts on quotations, excerpts, themes, etc. in a Zettelkasten. But beyond that, I need to make sure that my Zettel always refer to the sources from which they are inspired.

    Get in the habit of using a reference manager. This is a no-brainer. In the modern world, reference managers integrate with markdown and pandoc to make managing and tracking sources almost trivial. It is a habit that must be learned and ingrained into one's workflow.

    The question I have is: what is the best way to do this? Do I need two "boxes", one for the verbatim quotes with sources and a proper Zettelkasten for my ideas? If so, how do I connect the two boxes? Or should I do "double bookkeeping" and always write the original quote and source on each Zettel?

    No! You want to reduce redundancy and friction in your workflow as much as possible (but not too much).

    To reiterate: I know how a wiki works, and I think I also know how to set up a Zettelkasten; what is not yet clear to me is how to connect these two systems.

    At first, I was blind to this puzzle, but now I see how I evolved. The key is a personal map of connection types. Let me try and explain. Let's start with the easiest for me to explain.

    For my links that are more WikiLink like, non-original idea to non-original idea, I use the format ›[[202202090838]]‹. These are inter-note links. These links are like WikiLinks, as you describe them, between notes without an intermediatary note.

    Links to ideas that are a mix of my ideas and someone else ideas are formated [[202202090838]] like other links, but the note that I land on shows the mix of their ideas, in block quotes with a mix of quote levels, and some of my novel idea that is formatted in the note non-quoted. Here is a short example.

    Opportunistic compression ›[[201901261934]]  
    
    01-26-2019 - 7:34 PM
    
    > Progressive Summarization focuses, therefore on rebalancing the equation. It is a method for opportunistic compression — summarizing and condensing a piece of information in small spurts, spread across time, in the course of other work, and only doing as much or as little as the information deserves.
    
    > Compression is a means to improve discoverability.
    
    
    You summarize notes, not knowing what question might be asked in the future.
    
    #thinking-skills
    #zettelkasting
    
    Progressive Summarization ......................................[[201901261654]]
    
    ———
    References:
    Progressive Summarization: A Practical Technique for Designing Discoverable Notes
    evernote:///view/597091/s5/f0912e35-88e8-452b-a60d-aa0ef52360d8/f0912e35-88e8-452b-a60d-aa0ef52360d8/
    

    Notes progress from mostly quoted ideas to less and less of other ideas to more and more of my own ideas. Who knows, maybe I'll rehash this note converting the ideas to my own.

    Here is an example of a zettel that is all mine and has a Wiki-type link to an example that is someone else's idea. Notice that there is no block quoting in the note.

    ---
    UUID:      ›[[202111071350]] 
    cdate:     11-07-2021 01:50 PM
    tags:      #writing #thinking #dzogchen  
    ---
    # How Can Thoughts Have So Much Power?
    
    **Use an existential question to start a riff in creative writing.**
    
    What is a thought, and how can they have so much power? How can that thought "X" have so much influence on my life? In writing, rift on thought than say "How can this thought have so much influence on me?" Continue on!
    
    - Your Environment Holds You In An Embrace [[202102210733]]
    - Truth confirmation [[201905311111]]
    - Shaping my writing environment [[202202060916]]
       - Control your environment to control your writing.
    
    
    Super example by Carlo Rovelli ›[[202111060708]]‹
    

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @nurso said:
    Thank you for your answer, but to be honest, I am more of a hands-on person and understand such things better through concrete examples. But I'll try to use your terminology.

    So you are saying that I need two different systems; some sort of Wiki in which I connect the "phenomena", i.e. the sources themselves, and a Zettelkasten for the "interpretation". Is that right?

    If that is the case, then my question still remains: how to connect these two systems.

    Everything is in your Zettelkasten. :) Aside from the sources themselves. And even then they could be included as notes (as I do with the bible).

    I am a Zettler

  • @Will said:
    No! You want to reduce redundancy and friction in your workflow as much as possible (but not too much).

    @Sascha said:
    Everything is in your Zettelkasten. :) Aside from the sources themselves. And even then they could be included as notes (as I do with the bible).

    Thanks to both of you.

    So if I understood you correctly, you are saying that short quotations can certainly be verzettelt, but always with reference back to the source, which exists untouched outside the Zettelkasten. Like so:

    ┌───────┐    ┌──────────┐   ┌──────┐
    │Sources├────► Zettel w.├───►Zettel│
    └────┬──┘    │ quotes   │   └──────┘
         │       └──────────┘
         │
         │        ┌──────┐
         └────────►Zettel│
                  └──────┘
    
  • Ignore the layer of Zettels.

    It is Source -> Phenomenon (what you are describing) -> Interpretation -> Synthesis.

    It is not important if everything is on one note or you divide it up. Just use the rule of thumb: Everything that you want to refer to specifically needs to have its own ID (and then needs to be captures by on an atomic note).

    I am a Zettler

  • @nurso

    I know how a wiki works, and I think I also know how to set up a Zettelkasten; what is not yet clear to me is how to connect these two systems.

    I have done quite a lot of research and writing in history (and published some of it). Personally, I just have a database that is something like a Zettelkasten in some ways, and a bit like a wiki in others. I don't see any need for methodological purity if the method gets in the way or is not perfectly suited to the task at hand. Indeed, I would say that some of the worth of a good method is that it can be adapted to suit differing needs. As has been pointed out before, Luhmann was a social scientist, and I can well imagine that he might have adopted a somewhat different method if he had been a chemist or a historian. In my own work I find that it is best to plunder methods for whatever is useful in them, rather than to adopt them wholesale, as they are rarely a perfect fit. But then I've always been a bit of a maverick. :)

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