A somewhat similar situation occurred, and I was an active participant in it, during my first year as an architectural student at the University of Florence. That was in the late seventies. It was a huge class, a survey course on architecture and linguistics (yes, we did such things), taught by an eminent Professor. As lectures were frequently disrupted by civil unrest and political turbulence in Italy that year--at one point, the class met in a public garden, as the main University building was occupied alternatively by the Armed Guild of Irascible Untenured Instructors (an approximate translation), by communist guerrillas, and by the Carabinieri--someone suggested that notes of Professor X's lectures should be taken, and circulated, to the benefit of those that could not attend, because injured in the riots, imprisoned, or temporarily under cover for diverse reasons. I volunteered. A group of three was formed. The third participant, a girl called Linda, disappeared inexplicably after two weeks, and no one ever saw her again.
That left two. Every week we took notes, we argued over and discussed them, then submitted them to Professor X, who made slight revisions. We then printed them thanks to a reproductive technology then popular, known in English as a mimeograph, or a ditto-machine, I am told. Ours was in fact a Gestetner Cyclostyle. On both sides of the Atlantic, those machines were icons of the sixties and seventies. Sometimes they came pre-installed on Volkswagen minivans.
I presume our work may have been useful to some of our peers. It was certainly useful to us, the two compilers. Thanks to the effort of note-taking, and to the laborious fine-tuning process that followed, we learned a lot. We were 18 years old, and it was our first publication in print--or almost print: a mimeographed printout, bound in a fascicule at the end of the year.
The second part of the story, however, is as follows. A few years later, while still a student, I lived for a while in the furnished apartment of a young lecturer at the same University, who had rented out his digs during a sabbatical abroad. One day, by accident, I stumbled upon a folder in his library--a special file, prominently titled "An Anthology of The Most Memorable and Idiotic Baloney from the University of Florence." The original Italian title was more vivid. I should not have done it, but I opened that folder. Most of it consisted of the above-mentioned ditto-machined notes. A wealth of red pen comments, graphic inserts, and sarcastic marginalia did not clarify to what extent the baloney-esque value of the document resided in what the teacher might have said, or in what the compilers (that is, me and my associate) had written. I never investigated the matter.
And so it goes. Such operations obviously entail some risk-taking from all parties involved, including the readers. I have revised the pages that follow, but kept my corrections to a minimum. The style is specific to each individual writer, and each author is responsible for his or her comments. All mistakes rest with me.
- Mario Carpo, Visiting Associate Professor, MIT.