How To Remember Global Geography

by Charles Muller

Is it easier for you to recognize the shape of a chair or the shape of Zimbabwe? Are you more likely to remember the locations of rooms in a building or the locations of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa? If your answers are "chair" and "rooms in a building," you may be interested in the Geography Learning Project.

This project explores the idea of having the campus of Stony Brook University represent the world as an aid in learning global geography. A map of the world is superimposed on the buildings and landscapes of the university, so that in one's imagination, real campus places come to represent world regions, countries, cities, mountain ranges, deserts, rivers and oceans. As a result, students and others who become familiar with the campus can become familiar with the globe, developing physical connections to, and lasting memories of, the details of global geography.

The Geography Learning Project grew out of a meeting between Professor Schäfer and myself, as we discussed an original map that I had made, entitled "The Stony Brook Union Building as Europe, a Geography Learning Aid." We decided that I should continue mapping the rest of the world on floor plans of other Stony Brook buildings and we would make them available through the website of the Center for Global History.

I created that first map as a step toward achieving a specific goal that brought me back to college after working in finance for over 20 years. That goal is to change how students study, to enable them to remember history and geography for a lifetime. Through exploration in my spare time from 1998 to 2003, I had discovered that one could remember history and geography by practicing the "places and images" technique of the ancient art of memory. I am currently using this technique in my own study of history.

My path to discovery began at the dining room table, the place where I helped my daughters prepare for social studies tests in middle school, and where I realized that I had forgotten almost all of the history and geography I had ever learned. That experience led me to try to invent ways to remember history and geography. After many informal experiments, I discovered that imagining people and objects interacting with the features of my back yard produced the strongest memories. I thought I had invented something new, never having heard of such a thing. But in fact I had stumbled upon the art of memory, which was invented in Greece in the fifth century BC and was used in learning for hundreds of years.

The Geography Learning Project employs the method of loci by associating images of geography with Stony Brook campus places. I hope that this project will help Stony Brook students to learn global geography. If you know of anyone who is currently applying the method of loci in education at any level, in any discipline, please contact me.