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1.A Demo Obsidian Vault

Click to download this zipped file containing a vault set up with what you need. Then extract it. This will become the foundation for your personal memex.

A 'vault' is just a folder with text files that have the .md file extension and can be opened by a variety of text editors and with Obsidian. 'File extensions' are that part of a file name after the period; sometimes these are hidden by your computer. A file extension is just a signal to your computer about the kind of program to open the file with. Thus .docx means, 'open this file with word', and .ppt means, 'open this file with powerpoint'. So '.md' means, 'open this file with whatever program understands text files that use markdown conventions to gently stylize the text.' A mouthful, yes.

Put the vault (i.e., 'folder') somewhere on your machine that is sensible. Don't leave it in your 'downloads' folder. Put it on your desktop or 'my documents' folder. Unzip it! Windows users - right-click on the zip and select 'extract all'. (Windows does weird stuff with zipped folders). (You can put it in a dropbox folder so you can use Obsidian across multiple devices; Mac users might want to put it in their icloud folder. I cannot vouch for any other such service. There are mobile apps for Obsidian, so if your vault is in iCloud, your vault would also be available to Obsidian on an iPad, for instance.)


...incidentally, 'folder' just means a place on your machine; folders are nested - they sit inside one another. So on my Windows machine, my 'teaching' folder can be found in this sequence or path of nested folders: C:\smg-machine\Documents\work\2023\teaching\

Setting this vault up for use

Fire up Obsidian; select 'open vault' and select the folder you just downloaded. When you open it the first time, Obsidian will ask you if you trust the author (i.e., me). Say yes. Then it will show you a settings screen showing all of the plugins that I have installed. Just hit the x to close that. Then read the note called start here and follow along through the numbered notes in the guidance folder.

Setting up -> Vault

This information is in the guidance folder in the vault, but I've also copied it to this website here in the tech help folder.

Setting up Zotero -> Vault

This information is in the guidance folder in the vault, but I've also copied it here, for reference.

Contents of the vault

This vault has been organized with subfolders like so:


Inside ancillary_code_do_not_touch are some special templates that use a bit of javascript to handle retrieving annotations from and also from pdfs annotated withinZotero The guidance folder contains detailed instructions on how to use the templates, how to extract annotations, and how to 'refactor' extraced notes into smaller atomic notes. We don't just make notes, we garden as well; we prune, we graft, we entwine them.

A Potential Workflow

We'll talk more in class, and we will practice this, but-

  1. read article and annotate
    1. extract annotations if necessary
  2. make a summary note explaining in your own words the major take-aways from the article; include the full bibliography for the source in this note.
  3. refactor extracted annotations to make atomic notes
    1. link atomic notes to the summary note describing the original source
  4. Make idea notes when ideas hit you.
  5. Have a gardening phase where you revisit notes to interlink as appropriate, delete as appropriate.

...there are many ways you could do 1-2-3. And after you've done at least 1, the other steps can be done pretty much as you feel so inspired.