Memory Palace Ideas for Memorizing Historic Dates

After spending some time looking at the memory palace for memorizing historic dates, I started thinking about how it might work in practice. I quickly sketched out a floorplan using Inkscape.

First, here is the original drawing of the memory palace:

Emma Willard's The Temple of Time

The Temple of Time: click for the full-size image

Here is my floorplan, which is roughly based on the building above:

Memory palace idea for historical dates

Memory palace idea for historical dates

In the original drawing, it looks like each pillar’s width represents a century, and the pillars height represents time within that Century.

In my diagram, each pillar represents one century for the last 3000 years. Pillars before 1000 B.C.E. represent 500 to 1000 years because the dates aren’t going to be as fine-grained or accurate.

I added an extra row on the ceiling for characters, but I’m not sure what to do with it yet. I also changed some of the descriptions. The Military section on the ceiling was placed that it is above the Battles section on the floor. That way, military leaders on the ceiling can be connected with battles on the floor.

I organized the center of the floor to match the timelines in a book of world history that I have.

One problem with the original drawing is that pillars are too uniform to make good loci. My idea is to take one event or character from each country and attach that to the pillar. For example, the event in the 19th century that immediately stands out for me is the US Civil War. I would make pillar number 19 have characteristics of the Civil War and then attach other images to that.  The floor then becomes a journey from left to right, where key images can be placed.

I think that once some key images are placed, other images can be attached to them.

I’m not sure if this system will work or not, so I’m just brainstorming out loud here. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment…

13 comments

  • Josh, that looks fantastic! I wonder how much work need be done with the “floor plan” or a timeline such as the other one I posted in the forum could be used for the most recent 4000 years? While that doesn’t exactly stick to the floor column design you have, the column size fluctuating with rise/fall of different civilizations is an intriguing idea.

    The main problem I see with it is that for my purposes I would like to have more space/emphasis on recent history.

  • I prefer using real locations over constructed palaces, mostly because of the uniformity issue (or maybe I just don’t have a good enough imagination when trying to create my own palace). I just wrote about a new resource I’m using for memory palaces at my blog here http://bit.ly/fMbwNT Maybe you’ll be able to find a suitable “real” palace to map out this plan.

  • That’s a great idea. The problem I see is that all the columns and floor look a little monotonous, so it’d be easy to skip a section or have memories from one section interfere with another. What about unique gargoyles guarding each column? You could have what they look like relate to that historical epoch so as to make it more interesting and easier to remember…. Also, maybe things scattered (or placed) on the ground, like a pair of wet diving fins for the floor section for Oceania, etc.

    I definitely think this is an incredibly useful way to employ mnemonics, and I wish there were more articles about memorization techniques for remember history and current events.

  • @Peter
    I like the idea of scattering items across the floor. I wonder if something like this grid system would work.

    If you have questions about memorizing history, come join the memory forum!

  • Another method of remembering historical dates can be found in a book from 1813 (!) that’s posted in full on the Internet Archive.

    The idea is to create one room per century, with all the years of a century put systematically on the walls, floor and ceiling of every room. But that might become too monotonous, like the columns in your post. So I think it would be easier (in the long term) to devote one palace to a century (or maybe one floor or wing of a very big palace) and then one room per decade. The years of each decade can then be put on the walls, floor and ceiling.
    Having one room per decade perhaps lets you remember more data.

  • Michaelangelo Roque

    You got a wonderful idea. however I recall a similar idea by; Matteo Ricci s.j. from the book the Memory Palaces of Matteo Ricci.

  • It’s actually Emma Willard’s idea. Maybe she got it from Ricci. I just liked the illustration… 🙂

  • The idea in abstract is fantastic but as others mentioned, it does seem too cluttered (and organized the way a 19th century school child might approach the world, not the way we would). I am a fan of “Big History”, creating large bins such as Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Medieval Europe, the Enlightenment, etc., and viewing these bins as having more detail that can be drilled down as needed. Recent history such as the Civil War or World War II is quite easy because I have been studying it all my life, so I use these dates as anchors to others, for example remembering that the Inquisition condemned Galileo to life imprisonment for heresy in 1633, exactly 300 years before Hitler assumed absolute power in Germany. Galileo was born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare, which creates a connection across the Alps and the English Channel (we are often taught history country-by-country, but interconnecting simultaneous events helps us remember both histories better), and exactly 300 years before the last full year of the American Civil War. Of course, whatever anchor works best (sports scores, birthdays of children, etc.) will do the trick. There is no substitute for reading history either to get context and fullness, otherwise these are simply isolated dates floating in a context-less vacuum, but I am shocked at how many students do not even have a rough idea of when World War I was relative to the Civil War or the French Revolution, for example. If there is a pattern to the numbers I will use that also (for example, 1789 for the French Revolution = 1 and 7-8-9. If you can remember the century, you can get the exact year because of this ascending pattern. My high school history teacher decades ago had us memorize every president and the year he left office by using a series of ridiculous images most of which I remember to this day – I imagine a palace plays on the same idea where you get a spatial, relative, visual set of images rather than isolated shreds of text that our brains do not tend to store well. Finally, I use the phonetic number system, remembering for example that the hoRroR of D-Day was in (19)44 and or that SheRman burned down Atlanta in (18)64 (this is cheating a bit since the M and N are being ignored in Sherman but it’s OK because I know there is no date 186432.

  • Josh,
    I think you might be interested in something I saw on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo3vgXuas3o

    You could either create your own memory palace in Minecraft, or commision an artisan to create one to your specifications. You could become a patron of the arts, and commission the finest work since the Sistene Chapel! See what you think. Good luck on your efforts, however you proceed. P:D

  • @Phillip
    Thanks for the link. 🙂
    I briefly tried Minecraft, but haven’t figured out how to use it yet. If you’re interested in building memory palaces that way, Slimnexus also posts in the forum:
    Memory palace in Minecraft
    A Video of My Minecraft Memory Palace
    Minecraft Memory Palace

  • Suggestion:

    Pillars could be different shapes, stones rocks catapults cannons of each era. I think that would be diverse enough for it to work.

  • Hi Josh,
    Have you seen in the book Mind Hacks they combined the Dominic system with the Sem Cube system so you get a hotel with a hundred floors and a hundred rooms by using your PA or PAO.

    I think it is an interesting idea for something like this however I am trying to think it through a bit more. If you think about it the first 2000 rooms would be AD and add pegs in the room for different things like battles, wars, sports etc.

  • That’s the book that got me into memory techniques. I haven’t tried that method though. Let us know how it works out!