The fact that you’re a few (or many) years out of high school is no reason to forget everything you learned in history class. From songs to rhymes to acronyms, we’ve gathered a few clever tricks to help you recall the people, places, and things that shaped history. Here are 11 mnemonic devices that tell you more than when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
1. REMEMBERING THE 13 ORIGINAL STATES
You probably know that 13 colonies made up the original United States, but actually listing them is trickier than you’d imagine (Florida, Vermont, and Maine—then part of Massachusetts—don’t make the cut). Keep track of the original states with this colorful acrostic:
My Nice New Car Needs Re-Painting. Maybe Dark Violet? No Shiny Gold!
An acrostic differs from an acronym in that it creates a memorable phrase or sentence instead of a new word to help job your memory. Here, the first letters of each word in the phrase stand for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Once you have the saying committed to memory, your next challenge will be keeping all those N’s straight.
2. REMEMBERING THE SECESSION OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA
If you’re in search of a device to help you keep your Civil War history in order, try memorizing:
So My Father Ate Grapes Last Tuesday, Very Awesome Tart Napas.
The first letter in each word stands for a different confederate state in the order of its secession (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina). This acrostic is especially helpful because the comma is also significant—it represents Lincoln’s call for troops, after which the remaining four states seceded.
3. REMEMBERING THE U.S. PRESIDENTS
One of the best ways to remember a long list of names is in the form of a catchy song. This elementary school classic lists the names of all the U.S. presidents in order to the tune of a familiar nursery rhyme. After you memorize it, just make sure to review the updated version in 2016.
4. REMEMBERING BRITAIN’S MONARCHS
In Great Britain, school children also have a song to remember the ruling monarchs of England since William the Conqueror. Even though they have 700 more years of leaders to memorize than kids do in the States, they also have the advantage of dealing with longer ruling periods and repetitive names.
The last line has two alternate endings: The first goes “And if you’ve not lost your breath, give a cheer for Elizabeth.” And then there’s the slightly less polite version, “After which Elizabeth, and that’s the end until her death.”
5. REMEMBERING THE MAIN CAUSES OF WWI
There were several complex factors at play leading up to the start of World War I in 1914. A mnemonic device isn’t enough to fully understand this part of history, but it can help jog your memory in a pinch. To remember the main (wink, nudge) causes of WWI, simply recite this acronym:
Militarism Alliance System Imperialism Nationalism
Break that out next time you hear someone cite the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as the sole cause of the war.
6. REMEMBERING THE GEOLOGICAL TIME PERIODS
Even though they’re separated by millions of years, geological time periods are easily confused (the T.Rex that terrorizes “Jurassic” park actually belongs in the cretaceous period). Try keeping them in order with this memorable phrase:
Cows Often Sit Down Carefully. Perhaps Their Joints Creak? Persistent Early Oiling Might Prevent Painful Rheumatism
The first letter in each word stands for Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Recent. Once you have those down, getting that bizarre image seared into your mind shouldn’t be an issue.
7. REMEMBERING THE FATES OF HENRY VIII’S WIVES
The wives of King Henry VIII met so many unfortunate ends that it can be hard to keep track of them all. This device breaks down the fates of each unlucky lady in the form of a lyrical rhyme:
Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
The device’s catchiness almost makes the content seem a little less dreary.
8. REMEMBERING THE BRITISH RANK ORDER
Kings and Queens sit atop the totem pole in Great Britain, but making sense of the remaining rankings can get a little confusing. To remember that the British rank includes Dukes, Marquis, Viscounts, and Barons in descending order, simply ask yourself: Do Men Ever Visit Boston?
9. REMEMBERING SERGEANT WILLIAM JASPER
To remember the story of Sergeant William Jasper, recite the phrase:
Sergeant Jasper was the grasper of the fallen flag.
This alludes to his role in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. When the flagpole holding the American Patriot’s flag was shot down by British troops, the sergeant risked his life to climb over the fort’s wall and retrieve the flag. He then tied it to a sponge staff and returned the flag to a prominent spot to rally the troops. The British eventually withdrew and wouldn’t return to the state for another four years.
10. REMEMBERING WHEN HAWAII AND ALASKA BECAME STATES
When thinking of when the two newest states became part of the U.S., all you need to remember is one year. And if you still need an added memory boost, there’s a helpful rhyme that goes along with it:
’59 was the date, when Alaska and Hawaii became new states.
11. REMEMBERING THE CHINESE DYNASTIES
The Dynasties of ancient China can be categorized as Xia (Hsia), Shang, Zhou (Chou), Qin (Ch'in), Han, Jin, Southern and Northern, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing (Ching). To keep track of these 13 names, simply recite:
She Shamefully Chose Chinese Hand Jingles and Sinfully Sweet Tango Songs: "You and Me, Chickadee!"
As for the context of this delightful phrase, you can let your imagination run wild.
Armed with these handy tricks, you just might be ready to take on the pint-sized geniuses of Lifetime’s Child Genius: Battle of the Brightest. Tune in to the season premiere Thursday, January 7th at 8/7c to see where your memory stacks up.