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Marginalia are scribbles, comments, and illuminations in the margins of a book.

Biblical manuscripts

Biblical manuscripts have liturgical notes at the margin, for liturgical use. Numbers of texts' divisions are given at the margin (κεφαλαια, Ammonian Sectins, Eusebian Canons). There are some scholia, corrections, and other notes usually made later by hand in the margin.


The scholia on classical manuscripts are the earliest known form of marginalia. Fermat's last theorem is the most famous mathematical marginal note.

The first recorded use of the word marginalia is in 1819 in Blackwood's Magazine
Blackwood's Magazine
Blackwood's Magazine was a British magazine and miscellany printed between 1817 and 1980. It was founded by the publisher William Blackwood and was originally called the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. The first number appeared in April 1817 under the editorship of Thomas Pringle and James Cleghorn...

. From 1845 to 1849 Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

 titled some of his reflections and fragmentary material "Marginalia." Five volumes of Samuel T. Coleridge's marginalia have been published.

Some famous marginalia were serious works, or drafts thereof, written in margins due to scarcity of paper. Voltaire composed in book margins while in prison, and Sir Walter Raleigh
Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer. He is also well known for popularising tobacco in England....

 wrote a personal statement in margins just before his execution.

Beginning in the 1990s, attempts have been made to design and market e-book
An electronic book is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, and produced on, published through, and readable on computers or other electronic devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital...

 devices permitting a limited form of marginalia. In 2004, the Sony Librie EBR-1000EP
Sony Librie EBR-1000EP
- Overview :The Sony LIBRIé EBR-1000EP is a Japan only e-book display device in April 2004, two years prior its world successor Sony Reader.- Features :The 1000EP possesses the following specifications....

 was introduced with a tiny but full QWERTY
QWERTY is the most common modern-day keyboard layout. The name comes from the first six letters appearing in the topleft letter row of the keyboard, read left to right: Q-W-E-R-T-Y. The QWERTY design is based on a layout created for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter and sold to Remington in the...

 keyboard below the display, to permit the creation of marginalia and bookmarks.


Marginalia can add or detract from the value of an association copy
Association copy
An association copy is a copy of a book that has been inscribed and signed by the author to someone somehow associated with the book or its author...

 of a book, depending on the author of the marginalia and on the book.

Catherine C. Marshall, doing research on the future of the user interface
User interface
The user interface, in the industrial design field of human–machine interaction, is the space where interaction between humans and machines occurs. The goal of interaction between a human and a machine at the user interface is effective operation and control of the machine, and feedback from the...

, has studied the phenomenon of user annotation of texts. She discovered that in several university departments, knowledgeable students would scour the piles of textbooks at used book dealers for consistently annotated copies. The students had a good appreciation for their predecessors' distillation of knowledge.

Writers Known for their marginalia

  • Samuel T. Coleridge
  • David Markson
    David Markson
    David Markson was an American novelist, born David Merrill Markson in Albany, New York. He is the author of several postmodern novels, including Springer's Progress, Wittgenstein's Mistress, and Reader's Block...

  • Herman Melville
    Herman Melville
    Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

  • Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath
    Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer...

  • Mark Twain
    Mark Twain
    Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

  • David Foster Wallace
    David Foster Wallace
    David Foster Wallace was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California...

  • Pierre de Fermat
    Pierre de Fermat
    Pierre de Fermat was a French lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse, France, and an amateur mathematician who is given credit for early developments that led to infinitesimal calculus, including his adequality...

External links

  • Marginalia and other crimes from Cambridge University Library
    Cambridge University Library
    The Cambridge University Library is the centrally-administered library of Cambridge University in England. It comprises five separate libraries:* the University Library main building * the Medical Library...

  • Teachers’ Uses of Students’ Digital Annotations: Implications for the Formative Assessment of Reading Comprehension, Barry Brahier, 2006 (University of Minnesota
    University of Minnesota
    The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. It is the oldest and largest part of the University of Minnesota system and has the fourth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 52,557...

  • Marginalia: Six Personal Libraries (Thomas Carlyle
    Thomas Carlyle
    Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

    , Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century...

    , William James
    William James
    William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

    , John Keats
    John Keats
    John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

    , Herman Melville
    Herman Melville
    Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

    , Hester Thrale
    Hester Thrale
    Hester Lynch Thrale was a British diarist, author, and patron of the arts. Her diaries and correspondence are an important source of information about Samuel Johnson and 18th-century life.-Biography:Thrale was born at Bodvel Hall, Caernarvonshire, Wales...

     from Harvard University Library
    Harvard University Library
    The Harvard University Library system comprises about 90 libraries, with more than 16 million volumes. It is the oldest library system in the United States, the largest academic and the largest private library system in the world...