It would be futile to posit a "typical" anthropological mix of scratch notes, fieldnotes proper, records, texts, and other fieldwork writings. Yet there is far less of the totally individualistic, I-did-it-my-way, a-thousand-flowers-blooming, endless sinking-or-swimming that anthropologists tend to allege about fieldwork conduct. If we ask how anthropologists have transcribed, inscribed, and described, we see patterns, but we also see change over one hundred years of fieldwork. The answer to the question of what fieldnote practice is must be a historical one.
The sources for this history, at present, are not fieldnotes themselves. As James Clifford (this volume) points out, "Most of the actual practice and advice is unrecorded or inaccessible." A few anthropologists, we have seen, have given extracts or snippets of fieldnotes in various ethnographic, personal, and didactic writings. Yet the purposes for these offerings have not been historical record, nor is the record sufficient. Few anthropologists have seen fieldnotes before doing fieldwork. Unless it was some secret London School of Economics (LSE) rite, Jeremy Boissevain's obeisance at the Malinowski icon was unusual: "The only 'anthropologist's field notebook' I was actually able to touch and look at, and this only after many unsuccessful requests, was one of Malinowski's old field notebooks from the Department's museum" ( 1970: 79).