Hypothesis Hits 2M Annotated Readings: Our Favorite Picks

By frannyfrench | 28 January, 2022

The annotation community has reason to celebrate: To date, a whopping two million digital documents have been annotated. Wow, what a great shared accomplishment for everyone who harnesses the power of annotation to contribute to and expand conversations in the margins. It’s also a testament to the idea that reading is an inherently and even profoundly social activity. If only one person annotates a document, is that an act of social reading? Yes, because that reader is in conversation with the author of a text — and leaving notes for anyone who comes along and might add to the conversation, building on those first annotations. What happens when more people annotate together? By its very nature, social annotation is deeply collaborative. Sharing is caring, even if there’s disagreement among annotators. And there’s good vulnerability in annotation: You are bravely leaving a record of your thoughts, your unique spin, your own brand of thinking that others might see, might resonate with, and might connect to even more ideas and texts.

Screenshot of annotations on Vannevar Bush's essay, As We May Think, in The Atlantic.

Vannevar Bush stated in his 1945 heavily annotated Atlantic Monthly article As We May Think, “Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few.” Helping to realize Bush’s vision, we are facilitating the nibbling at the great digital library. We have selected a smattering of annotated documents, including Bush’s, to surface in celebration of this annotation achievement. We hope you enjoy what we’ve chosen.

Screenshot of an article about magic dirt, on NBC.

People in the US of a certain age will remember a product called the Pet Rock that sold very well. Many, many people purchased them, even though — uh huh — you can get a rock for free, pretty much anywhere. Fast forward to a new “product” that’s as old as dirt, and actually is dirt, and was marketed and sold for a premium as a cure-all before the operation was shut down. Check out Brandy Zadronzy’s ‘Magic Dirt’: How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest MLM, an annotated NBC story about a company that cornered the market on and made a bundle off of common dirt — not even your garden variety!

Screenshot of annotations on Ana Quiring's article, What's Dark About Dark Academia, in Avidly.

And take a look at What’s Dark about Dark Academia? by Ana Quiring. At a glance this piece appears to be a fun look at a niche social media trend focused on surfacing a collegiate aesthetic from a bygone era. But as author and annotators collectively point out, “dark academia” is a lot more complex and nods to a world where disciplines falling under the humanities are at risk of becoming things of nostalgia as the world tilts farther from valuing them in favor of more marketable majors.

If you ask us, a picture is worth a thousand annotated words. For example, a lot is said, very thoughtfully, in the margins of 50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1968 by Alan Taylor. Speaking of pictures, did you know that you can use photographs — or other multimodal forms of communication — as annotations?

Screenshot of annotations on the article 50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back At 1968 in The Atlantic, showing an image of the earthrise form the moon.
Screenshot of annotations on a page from Critical Thinking by bell hooks.

We often say that social annotation helps hone critical-thinking skills. Apropos, then, is an intriguing annotated text from the late bell hooks called Critical Thinking. In it, hooks states: “When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” Thank you and RIP, bell hooks, we miss you and couldn’t have said it better.

Screenshot of annotations on the Langston Hughes poem Life is Fine in Poetry and Poetics.

Find inspiration from the annotation conversation surrounding this wonderful assortment of Langston Hughes poems, which includes such classics as Harlem, Let America Be America Again, and The Weary Blues. Hughes says a whole lot with a one-line stanza. See what annotators have to say about that and more in these nine spectacular works.

Screenshot of annotations on the scientific article, Evolutionary Biology for the 21st Century, in PLOS.

The idea that evolution can help determine our future is at the heart of Evolutionary Biology for the 21st Century, a study by Jonathan B. Losos et al. The study looks at the ways in which the discipline has practical applications for understanding and problem solving in a number of disparate areas — from climate change to medical research to social change, engineering, food production, and even microbial communities, which of course are not the same as annotation communities, even though both are evolving!

Screenshot of annotations on the article Why It's Important to Think About Privilege, in Global Citizen .

In Global Citizens’ annotated essay Why It’s Important to Think About Privilege — And Why It’s Hard — which might just as easily have been titled “Privilege and Its Discontents” — author Kathleen Ebbitt offers practical advice on talking to privileged people about their privilege.

Screenshot of annotations on Catherine Pierce's poem, Probably It Will Be Summer Again in 32 Poems Magazine.

People often claim not to understand poetry, but one could argue that understanding poetry is not necessarily the point of poetry. Wherever you locate yourself in that debate, kick back and enjoy Mississippi Poet Laureate Catherine Pierce’s Probably It Will Be Summer Again — and the annotations it has inspired.

These are some of our favorite recent reads that have attracted social annotation. What are you annotating these days, and why? Let us know by adding an annotation to this post with links to your favorite conversations happening in the margins.

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