Obsidian Book Club: The Dawn of Everything
I made an impromptu video a couple of days ago and asked viewers if they'd be interested in a book club to read the brand new Graeber-Wengrow book that came out about three weeks ago, and also explore using Obsidian as a vehicle for both note-taking and for collaboration. I got some pretty positive feedback to that idea, both in comments and on Twitter. So I'm going to do it! Stay tuned to the end of the video for my email if you want to participate, so you can send me yours and I can invite you to a shared vault in Dropbox.
The objective of this experiment will be several things:
To discuss the new book, which I think is going to be very useful to me in my own thinking and in my teaching. Graeber and Wengrow challenge the idea that the "Neolithic Revolution" was uniform everywhere and resulted immediately and inevitably in hierarchy, kingdoms, empires. And they also suggest (in the very first chapter!) that the European Enlightenment ideas of personal liberty, natural rights, and equality may have originated in the new world, with native peoples such as the Wendat and may have been transferred to Europe by way of reports of native critiques of French culture by authors such as Lahontan.
To explore different people's ideas about how they do note-taking and knowledge management in Obsidian. Maybe compare our individual processes to a baseline such as Luhmann's zettelkasten or Sönke Ahrens' elaboration of that in *Smart Notes*.
Explore the potential of shared, collaborative vaults in Obsidian. I have used shared, semi-public vaults in several of my classes (both survey's and upper levels). they have been effective as places students could go to read content and answer questions. I've had some success encouraging students (for extra credit) to add content pages or having students take notes on class discussions in real time. For the most part, these students were brand new to Obsidian. I'll be interested to share a space with people who have more experience and more motivation. I hope to learn from others and add to my understanding of the app and the workflow.
My plan will be to create a shared Obsidian vault in Drop box, and then invite people who indicate interest by sending me their email addresses. The shared graph will allow us to post our own ideas and respond to those of the other participants. These ideas and responses can be related to the text, its implications, the note-taking and idea-processing techniques we're employing, the vault as a shared medium, etc. I'll act as a moderator of sorts, but everybody will have the power to edit every page. Obviously, we'll want to observe basic rules of civility and I suppose I will have the ultimate authority to revoke someone's privileges to the Dropbox folder if there were problems. But I've done this for several semesters with college students, and there have been NO instances of flame wars and only one instance I know of where a user has accidentally erased part of a page. In any case, in my classes I back up the vault daily, so I have never had a major loss of content.
When you get access to the vault, I'd appreciate it if people would make a home page for themselves with a short bio and if you're comfortable, a photo. I'll go first and put a page up in the vault when I launch it. The text of the book is 526 pages long, and the audio os 24 hours at 1.0 speed. I listened at 1.5 with no appreciable loss of understanding, so it took me 16 hours to get through the first pass. I read along as I was listening and made highlights and comments as I went. Readwise swept the highlights and comments into my personal Obsidian vault, but I'm not going to just copy and paste quotes or comments into the vault we share. Instead, I'm going to go to the second step of my process and begin paraphrasing the content I was attracted to and arguing with the authors. Some people think of this as the "Reading Notes" to "Permanent Notes" transition -- we can discuss this in the vault too. I'll probably make some new YouTube videos and attach them to some pages in the vault -- others are welcome to do the same!
As to the live aspect of this, we have some options. We could do Zoom, or I could try to learn to livestream on YT. I was planning on learning that sometime, but the downside of that is that then I'm the only person talking and everybody else has to interact via the chat. With Zoom, we would all be able to talk, share screens, etc. I see this as much more conducive to peer-to-peer interaction, so Zoom would be my preference.
Several people who responded are not in North America. So there's the additional question of time zones. 5 PM in Bemidji is 10 AM in Melbourne, I think. So that's not impossible. We'll also have the Obsidian vault, of course, where people can drop in anytime. But when Roam Research did the first couple of Book Clubs I attended, there was a lot of great energy generated by the live interactions on Zoom. They did a couple of meeting times, to accommodate different people in various regions. We could definitely emulate that. I'd imagine the Zoom sessions would run for about an hour, and would be split fairly evenly between talking about the content and talking about the process. If we need more time for one or the other, we can adjust or add meeting times. And for the sake of people who can't make the scheduled Zoom meetings (all of them or some), I'd like your permission to record the sessions and post them on YouTube. I generally post my videos with a Creative Commons license on them, so you would basically be releasing your share of the copyright and agreeing to be part of a free, public discussion. If anyone is concerned about appearing on camera, of course, they could turn off their camera, use an avatar, or I could blur your image.
As I said, the book is a little over five hundred pages long. I'd like to tackle it over five weeks, during my winter break between semesters. The natural breaks seem to me to lend themselves to this type of division.
Week 1 would cover the Introductory chapter and the chapter on the indigenous critique of Europe (Chapters 1 and 2).
Week 2, we'd look at chapters 3 and 4, about the ice age and the "Advent of Private Property".
Week 3 , chapters 5, 6, and 7, about the adoption or avoidance of agriculture.
Week 4, chapters 8, 9, and 10, about cities and states, with maybe a short digression into what James C. Scott had to say about similar themes.
Week 5, chapters 11 and 12, called "Full Circle" and conclusion, where we discuss what it all means.
So we begin with about 78 pages on one main idea, and then move on to about a hundred pages a week on the other main idea, before returning to the synthesis at the end. If this sounds reasonable and you want to give it a try, then get ready to take down my email address. You don't 100% have to do each and every week, although hopefully people will find it useful and interesting enough that they'll continue.
If you want to try this, please email me the following information:
Location and timezone
Your permission to release what you write in the vault to the group (it's a shared format, after all) and agreement to participate in an online, public discussion.
Preference of day and time to meet on Zoom.
Suggestions regarding anything I haven't thought of (like I said, this is brand new for me).
Send these responses, please, to email@example.com. Once I figure out where people are, I'll put together a schedule of Zoom meeting times.