President of the United States/Selective Memory

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Why are some Presidents easier to remember than others?

Selective Memory[edit | edit source]

Remembering that George Washington was the 1st President is fairly easy. He was after all the proverbial Father of the United States, not simply because he was the 1st President, but also because he commanded the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Similarly, the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed, 1776, is also easier to remember than the year of George Washington's inaugeration, 1789. For the cases of succession, some are fairly easy to remember, such as the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, while others seem more obscure, such as the assassinations of James A. Garfield and William McKinley. And remembering the names of the Presidents who succeeded them may seem even more difficult (Who were they?).

There are two primary reasons for these cases of selective memory. The first is simply repetition. That is, as the 1st President, George Washington is mentioned on numerous occasions, not simply in the classroom, but also in modern US culture. Likewise, the names of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are also repeated often, so they simply tend to be retained in our memories.

The other reason is the context in which these names occur. For instance, wars are traumatic events in a country's history, so the Presidents associated with these wars tend to be easier to remember. Though not a President at the time of the Revolution, George Washington was the commanding General and later became the 1st President. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln died at the end of the Civil War and John F. Kennedy died at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Also, the mysterious events and innumerable conspiracy theories surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination tend to make his name easier to remember. Going further, Woodrow Wilson was President during World War I, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was President during the Great Depression and World War II. Harry Truman is particularly memorable because he became President at the very end of World War II and ordered the use of the Atomic Bomb against Japan, though he was unaware of its existence until after FDR's death.

Trivia and Trends[edit | edit source]

In contradiction to being trivial, Trivia in its more modern sense is quite valuable. It supplies the numerous little facts that serve as landmarks in a historical landscape. For our purposes, as we begin to build our list of the Presidents and develop an understanding of their times, the landscape is fairly blank. The first step then is to identify the more memorable Presidents and when they served, which means we'll be creating our own bits of trivia to help us remember.

Empowered by a sufficient set of landmarks, the second step is to link them together by recalling short lists of Presidents and filling in the gaps. A slightly tougher task that can be simplified by associating trends in American History with the Presidents serving at the time. As previously stated, the subjects of these trends can vary widely and include items such as wars, technology, architecture, fashion, and a host of others. By our very topic, our primary subject will surround national events, but being themselves influenced by both regional and wordly trends, we could find our discussions wandering far afield.

Goals and Measure[edit | edit source]

As a Learning Project on the US Presidents, one of the most obvious goals is to be able to list them. Though not the most valuable skill in itself, this ability provides a direct means to our greater end, which is to know the US Presidents. In addition to building a framework for exploring historical events and trends, the list allows us to measure our own progress in this joint endeavor.

The next assignment is a sample process for building the list of US Presidents. As you will see, there are many ways to build the list, and the trivia and trends you find of value can be made specific to your own interests. Though the assignment will fill in the entire list, being able to repeat this task every time thereafter would prove difficult indeed. However, as we review each of the units, the underlying trends will become clearer, and the list that much easier to make.

Assignment[edit | edit source]

Complete Worksheet 4.