Think your laboratory notebook is just there for taking notes for class and doodling in the margins? Then you’re definitely underestimating the potential of the humble notebook, into which some of the important thoughts of creations throughout the last few hundred years of human history have been recorded.
Often, the person scribbling notes didn’t even realize how important their stray thoughts and idle observations would end up being. Still, that doesn’t stop the following notebooks of great people from being the sources of some of the most important developments in science and art in human history.
George Lucas and the Prophetic Sound Mix
Before he was the famous creator of the Star Wars franchise, George Lucas was a small-time filmmaker working on personal projects like American Graffiti. While working on post-production for that movie, Lucas was also writing the initial drafts of what would eventually become the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope.
As he was working on American Graffiti’s sound design with editor and sound designer Walter Murch, Murch asked him to hand him R2, D2 – industry terminology for “reel 2, dialogue 2.” Lucas liked the combination of words and letters so much, he scribbled them in the notebook he carried with him; within just a few years, “R2D2” would become the name of one of the most iconic characters in Lucas’ venerable franchise.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species changed biology, natural sciences, and many other disciplines of human knowledge forever. Before On the Origin of Species was a book, however, it was a series of carefully recorded observations in the notebooks that Darwin brought with him on his voyage to the Galapagos Islands and the coast of South America.
Darwin filled fifteen different notebooks with descriptions of samples, geological coordinates, and lots of other relevant data, all of which he would eventually combine together into his groundbreaking theory of natural selection.
Beatrix Potter was the author of the classic children’s book A Tale of Peter Rabbit, as well as many other beloved stories starring precocious animals beloved by generations of children. In addition to being a published author, Potter was also a natural scientist, a conservationist, and an avid notebook keeper. She would fill many notebooks with drawings and writings on many topics, ranging from philosophy to politics and everything in between. In order to keep her teenage writings secret from her nosy mother, Potter often wrote in a code of her own creation.
Leonardo Da Vinci
Perhaps the most famous notebooks of all are those of Leonardo Da Vinci, in which the iconic Renaissance man recorded many of his ideas for paintings, sculptures, architecture, and weapons of war. Some of Da Vinci’s ideas were so advanced, they wouldn’t be fully realized until hundreds of years after his death.
A fun note about Da Vinci: When writing in his notebooks, he would record his thoughts from right to left; scholars still debate whether this was a way to obscure his thoughts from prying eyes or simply a way for the left-handed Da Vinci to write without smearing ink as his hand moved across the paper.
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