On Intellectual Craftsmanship

A thread on the Tinderbox forum correlated C. Wright Mills’ essay “On Intellectual Craftsmanship” (as recently discussed by Scott McLemee’s in Inside Higher Ed ) with Mark Bernstein’s The Tinderbox Way.

Mills wrote “On Intellectual Craftsmanship for aspiring academics, imparting the value of a “file” to serve as a huge repository for notes on all subjects, trivial, personal, and professional. This file would keep work moving in productive directions and can help organize thinking.

In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to use your experience and relate it directly to various work in progress. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encourages you to capture `fringe-thoughts': various ideas which may be byproducts of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience.

Spatial hypertext has proven to be great for engaging repositories of notes and assisting with analyzing, organizing, and drawing relationships among distinct ideas. In The Tinderbox Way, Bernstein echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that taking notes is essential, and spatial hypertext gives us a means to cluster related notes that don’t necessarily have a relationship concrete enough to link them.

But it’s the most important part that escapes most of us. As Bernstein writes, “Above all, remember to write it down.”