Learning notes, early June

June 5, 2014 @ 5:59 pm | Filed under:
King_George_I_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt_(3)King George I by Sir Godfrey Keller. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.


The tide seems to be ebbing, as surely as tides do ebb. We’ve put away our science reading for the summer, leaving the world poised for dramatic change in the wake of Sir Isaac Newton. The history books aren’t yet officially shelved, but it’s a week or more since we picked one up. We got sidetracked by languages and kept conjugating the mornings away. Latin and German formally, the lot of us, and French informally via children’s songs (go ahead, ask us how many elephants can balance on a spiderweb), and Rose has me inching through Spanish grammar with her, and all of us have way too many plants to water daily on Memrise. And yet we keep planting more!

Ah, Memrise. Thanks to it, I can now list all the monarchs of England and Britain—with dates for all but a couple of sticky ones. Those two kings in the middle ages with interrupted reigns. One of the Henrys and one of the Edwards, I think. They’re still tripping me up—the specifics, I mean. I can wrangle them into their spots in the list. And I’m darn proud that I can keep all those Georges and Edwards and Henrys straight—even the one with long strings of names, since Memrise insists I use every doggone one of them. Edward VIII, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, even! (Edward Always Chases Girls And Parties Down—sorry, Ed, I know it isn’t very dignified but it works. Could be worse: think of poor Left-Leg Louie, aka King George I, George Louis. See him up there in the picture, with his left leg forward? The unfortunate nickname was someone else’s mem, and it worked.)

We’ve nailed the U.S. Presidents, too. We could sing them in order already—well, except for the bunch around Rutherford B. Hayes where we always got tripped up—thanks to an old (very old) Singin’ Smart cassette. (Cassette! That’s how old!) But now we’ve pegged them to dates. Ulysses S. Grant did not take the summer of ’69 for GRANTed. During James K. Polk’s term (1845-1849) the country POLKa’d its way to California just in time for the Gold Rush. The louder it makes you groan, the more likely you are to remember it.

Rose scoffs at mnemonics and just plain memorizes. Not I. I gotta have a hook. Richard I and Richard II both had reigns that closed out a century, did you know that? 1199 and 1399 respectively. Charles I (the Merry Monarch) and George III began their reigns in 1660 and 1760, and somehow that link makes them both easier for me to remember. William Henry Harrison died in office in 1841; James A. Garfield ditto in 1881. Another peg.

As always happens when you set “separate” chunks of history side by side, surprises hit you. I had never put it together that Teddy Roosevelt became President the year Queen Victoria died! His two terms align almost exactly with the reign of King Edward VII: you know, the Edwardian era. This is one of those connections I should have made earlier, and probably did make a time or two, glancingly, somewhere along the line, but I can’t say it really stuck. When I’m reading the Betsy-Tacy books (set during that very decade; Betsy graduates from high school in 1910, I think) I’m not thinking about who’s on the throne over in England. Nor, when watching Upstairs, Downstairs (in which, if I recall correctly, a whole episode revolved around the death of the King), was I picturing Theodore Roosevelt gallivanting around the U.S. creating National Parks.  Connections are everything in education, and here’s one I hadn’t made until now. Teddy and Eddie. Got it.


I meant to make a list of all the books I’ve seen people reading, and books I’ve read aloud. Failed again. Missed some good ones, too! As for me, I read the first big chunk of The Goldfinch and found it so thoroughly harrowing I had to put it down for a little while. At this rate, it might take me the whole summer.


Literature of the English Country House has begun! I’m behind already! That’s quite all right!

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12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    Memrise is wonderful! But my question is, do you know the stories behind why those medieval kings had interrupted reigns? It’s deeply fascinating and highly entertaining. And complicated – I’ve read many books on the era and still find it hard to get my head around all the events and personalities. Funny though, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the dates involved. I can tell you how Edward met his bride and why their marriage was such a bad idea, and why Elizabeth of York seemed to be in love with the man who murdered her brothers, and how Henry died, but when? Nope.

    I am so impressed by your language studies.

  2. sarah says:

    Gosh sorry reading my comment afterwards I realise it comes across as dreadfully rude! I am so sorry, I would have deleted it if I could. That’s the peril of typing fast while headachy and distracted not to mention easily carried away with love for a particular time period. I admire your memorising skill, especially with dates – the only date I remember is 1066. I won’t mind at all if you delete my comment for me. 🙂

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    Not rude at all, Sarah! 🙂 I know many of the stories—we did a lot of reading in this vein this year, especially—but not all of them. I have big holes in the Plantagenet stretch that I’m hoping to fill in next year. I also like reading multiple books to get different points of view. Such fun, for example, to compare Shakespeare’s Richard III, that monster, to the one posited in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. (Which reminds me: FutureLearn’s “England in the Time of Richard III” course starts on June 30. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/england-of-richard-third-2014 )

    I would LOVE book recommendations from you on this subject. I’ve seen several on your blog and keep meaning to hunt back through for titles.

    I’ve never put much emphasis on dates. We started learning them by accident this year, thanks to our timeline cards, which were meant simply to help us get things in a rough chrono order but wound up imprinting many dates on our brains! And once I had some, I needed more, needed to be able to make a mental pegboard to hang other events on. Memrise has made it easy, I have to say. 🙂

  4. Sandra says:

    I know what you mean about The Goldfinch. Normally I only read one book at a time but I started it, put it aside and read The Room, picked it up and read some more, then put it aside once more and read the new Wiley Cash novel, before finally finishing The Goldfinch. Thanks for mentioning Literature of a Country House. We’ve jumped in and are enjoying it.

  5. Melanie B says:

    I always love your learning notes posts.

    Oh I really want to get all the English monarchs straight one of these days. But I think Bella’s a bit too young for doing that with me and we’ve got so much on our plates so I’m going to wait for our next go-round.

    And I want Sarah’s book recommendations too! Those stories sound fascinating.

  6. sarah says:

    I had a friend over this afternoon and tried so hard to focus on her but at least a third of my brain was angsting over my comment. Thank you for being so gracious, despite my stupidity 🙂 I will look up some book titles, but do remind me if I’m slow getting back to you.

    I’m really looking forward to that King Richard course! I tended towards the revisionist view but the book I read recently by Alison Weir on Elizabeth of York changed my mind again. Oh I could write for hours aboud context and culture, but dinner is burning …

    Again, apologies.

  7. Penny says:

    We memorized the monarchs via Horrible Histories a few years ago, and recently watched the series “Monarchy” with David Starkey (pretty sure that’s the name). It’s on Netflix streaming, and really fascinating. I think there is another one with that title (more recent) that focuses on QEII, however the series we watched encompasses the whole of British history up to Victoria or thereabouts.

  8. Penny says:

    Here’s a link for the series, and I should amend my description to the fact that Netflix only goes through Cromwell, season 3 isn’t available. Sadly.


    (Hope it’s ok to do that)

  9. mamacrow says:

    oh, Horrible Histories! I’m still in mourning that they’re not making any more 🙁

    William, William, Henry, Stephen, Henry, Richard, John, Oi!

    And wow, memrise looks AMAZING, thanks for the heads up on that one.

  10. Karen Edmisten says:

    Memrise! New to me! Thank you! 🙂

    Sarah, here’s my perspective: your comment didn’t sound at all rude, it sounded like an expansion of the conversation. 🙂

    I learned a lot about Charles II when I wrote Deathbed Conversions, but I still find it all so dizzying. I will be learning history for the rest of my history. 🙂

    A friend of mine just read The Goldfinch and also found it harrowing. I haven’t touched it … haven’t felt ready for it.