Critics obsessed with [Milton's] great reputation and great scholarship tend to look exclusively to literary sources for his ideas. . . . My not very daring suggestion is that Milton got his ideas not only from books but also by talking to his contemporaries.
We use study pages to help us inform and orient our diverse inquiries. Neither lessons nor assignments, study pages somewhat resemble good travel guides, ones that strengthen their users' agency in doing what they intend to do. Both travel guides and study guides help users make discerning choices for themselves. They provide information about what's where and notices about why people generally go to see this or that, what importance they have attached to it historically, esthetically, or in some register of fun and adventure. Like the traveler's guide book, study pages inform a student's choice, particularly the initial choices to attend first to this and not to that.
As we begin, study pages on A Place to Study are sparse and short for the simple reason that volunteers create A Place to Study and only a few have been doing so for a short time. We trust that the number and scope of study pages will increase, but they should remain in character study pages, neither syllabi nor packaged tours. On A Place to Study let's hold dear that quip, oft attributed to Cervantes, "the road is better than the inn." Study pages serve persons who are finding their own way, deciding on what roads they will take and making sense of their experiences along the way.
In working with study pages, we should develop guidelines that clearly differentiate them from encyclopedia entries. The two forms overlap to some degree, but the encyclopedia addresses the current state of knowledge about the materials it covers whereas the study page informs the choices a student will likely encounter in advancing self-formation and liberal learning by self-directed engagement with the topic. The two forms differ because each serves a different intent, to know something through the encyclopedia and to do something through the study pages. The latter intent seems vague because we have much less experience with it than we do with the intent of acquiring knowledge about something through an encyclopedia.
Let's start drafting and using study pages, developing our understanding of what will make them effective by continually reflecting our our experience with them. To start, we can group them under various headings such as persons, events, concepts, places, periods, and so on. What are we doing when we contemplate a work, achievement, or example of another in a self-formative way? What happens when we read or watch or hear something moving or meaningful when we do it freely, without ulterior purpose, autonomously? How can we support such experiences taking place?
Let's hypothesize that throughout historical time and across cultures many creative persons wanted to communicate to other persons through the work they crafted things that each had found meaningful in their self-formation and liberal learning. For instance, perhaps Michel de Montaigne did not write his essay, "De l'institution des enfans," to propound his pedagogical principles as they might be applied in educational praxis, but rather to communicate to Madame Diane de Foix, Contesse de Gutson, and others like her, the range of what would come to his mind when he thought freely and considered self-formation in the context de l'institution des enfans. Let's try during summer 2021 [now winter 2022] to organize a small working group to study Montaigne's essay as if he wrote it with this intent, taking all the matters to which he refers, not as digressive ornament, but as integral to the cumulative substance of what he wanted to bring to mind.
- Christopher Hill. Milton and the English Reolution (New York: The Viking Press, 1977) p. 5.
- I leave Montaigne's title of the essay in his French to suggest that we might open up its potential meanings as part of our hypothesis. He could have written de l'éducation, or de l'instruction, or de l'enseignement, but chose de l'institution, which now primarily means an institution or establishment, but certainly in the 16th century and on into the 19th, it meant not only the organization (e.g. the Royal Institution of Great Britain), but the process of establishing or instituting something. Let's study Montaigne's essay, De l'institution des enfans", as if it is an essay about the process by which children form, and let's do so as part of our instituting A Place to Study.