AskDefine | Define marginalia

User Contributed Dictionary




From , from neuter plural of marginalis, from margo


  1. Notes in the margin of a document.
    We actually know what the composer was thinking as he wrote the piece because we can read his hand written marginalia on the manuscript.

Extensive Definition

Marginalia is the general term for notes, scribbles, and editorial comments made in the margin of a book. The term is also used to describe drawings and flourishes in medieval illuminated manuscripts. True marginalia is not to be confused with reader's signs, marks (e.g. stars, crosses, fists) or doodles in books. The formal way of adding descriptive notes to a document is called annotation.
The scholia on classical manuscripts are the earliest known form of marginalia. Fermat's last theorem is probably the most famous historical marginal note.
The term was coined by Samuel T. Coleridge who did extensive in margin notes in almost all the books that he read. Five volumes of just his marginalia have been published. Edgar Allan Poe formally titled some of his reflections "Marginalia."
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 wrote a personal statement in margins just before his execution. John Bethune was a poor English poet whose only available paper was borrowed space in books.
Marginalia can add or detract from the value of a book, depending on the author of the marginalia and the book. Marginalia by Tony Blair in a book by Winston Churchill, for example, might add value; a student's notes in a popular edition of Oliver Twist might not.
Scientists doing research on the future of the user interface have studied the phenomenon of user annotation of texts. They 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.
In the last decade of the 20th century, many attempts were made to design and market e-book devices permitting a limited form of marginalia. At the beginning of the new millennium, the Sony Librie EBR-1000EP was introduced with a tiny but full qwerty keyboard below the display, to permit the creation of marginalia and bookmarks.


  • Jackson, H. J. Marginalia: Readers writing in Books, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-300-08816-7 N.B: one of the first books on this subject
  • Coleridge, S. T. Marginalia, Ed. George Walley and H. J. Jackson. The Collected works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge 12. Bolligen Series 75. 5 vols. Princeton University Press, 1980-.
  • Alston, R. C. Books with Manuscript: A short title catalogue of Books with Manuscript Notes in the British Library. London: British Library, 1994.
marginalia in Bulgarian: Маргиналии
marginalia in German: Marginalie
marginalia in Spanish: Marginalia
marginalia in Dutch: Marginalia
marginalia in Portuguese: Marginália
marginalia in Russian: Маргиналии

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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