Mine consists of computer files with a new section for each page, with my comments in […] and bits which seem specially important in bold. I'll read everything I need, take notes in a separate document for each text, then have them all open while I try to make sense of them in a fresh master document. My books are also full of scribbles, scraps of paper and - I discovered last year - the passport I'd reported lost several years ago.
The trouble is, writing's horrible and reading's fun. And easier.
Still, at least I'm not Lord Acton, another famous historian:
whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him. An unforgettable description of Acton’s Shropshire study after his death in 1902 was given by Sir Charles Oman. There were shelves and shelves of books, many of them with pencilled notes in the margin. ‘There were pigeonholed desks and cabinets with literally thousands of compartments into each of which were sorted little white slips with references to some particular topic, so drawn up (so far as I could see) that no one but the compiler could easily make out the drift.’ And there were piles of unopened parcels of books, which kept arriving, even after his death. ‘For years apparently he had been endeavouring to keep up with everything that had been written, and to work their results into his vast thesis.’ ‘I never saw a sight,’ Oman writes, ‘that more impressed on me the vanity of human life and learning.’What's your method?