Learn Geography – Learn History

Atlas MapGeography is such an important part of knowing history.  You really can’t separate the two.  Most people know very little geography outside of the place they actually live.  This is unfortunate.  Knowledge of geography does not mean EXPERTISE in geography.  That is for cartographers (map makers), intelligence agencies, and geography teachers.  Having a good grasp of geography is what I am talking about here.

What does having a good grasp of geography mean?  It means you can hear of something on the world news and be able to know where in the world this event is happening.  You should be able to find (without using Google or Siri) places like Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and the Horn of Africa, on a map for instance.  You should know where the general area of the Roman Empire was located.  You should be able to connect countries and cities with famous landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Machu Picchu, The Golden Gate Bridge, and the Kremlin.  Finally you should understand you local geography and the geography of your own country.  As an American I am proud to know my 50 state capitals, landmarks from all over the country, and the different histories of many people of this great country.

If you are more advanced you should be able to understand that place names really don’t accurately portray the full history of the place. In a later blog post I will cover anachronisms in history.  Look up that word now and think how today’s geopolitical maps can make history confusing. (Think “Turkey” and who was in “Turkey” way before the Turks.)


There are many fun ways to learn geography.  When you simply do activities you will learn.  There is no need to get a list of countries and memorize their capitals.  That is boring.  This blog is about making history fun.

Sports –

If you are into major league sports like MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLS then you have learned U.S. and Canadian geography without even trying.  Where do the Mariners play?  In Seattle, of course.  What about the Cubs?  Chicago!  My home team, the Jazz? Here in Salt Lake City.

Chicago is home of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, and the Fire.  If you look up “Wrigley Field, Chicago” on Google maps you will see that it is a very large city located near the southern tip of Lake Michigan.  You will see how close Chicago is to some other major cities. (It is a close flight, but a bit of a drive if you are in a car.) You will also see that Chicago is not the capital of Illinois even though it is, by far, the largest city in the state.

Maybe you can look up some international futbol teams. (I am trying to sound cool, but I really call it soccer, like most Americans.)  Real Madrid and Manchester United come to my mind immediately.  Look these places up on Google Maps and you will learn a bit about the geography of Spain and the United Kingdom.  It really is that easy.

Documentaries and TV Shows –  

There are many documentaries that focus on certain places.  You may learn about Vietnam or Japan, or even North Korea simply by watching a documentary.  You get to see the sights and the people, and maybe even learn about a certain political or cultural subject through a documentary.

Some TV shows even have a good bit of geography.  I used to watch “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”  It was a popular kids gameshow in the early 1990’s.  I found an episode on YouTube.   https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DRXGyZro3Qw  I must say, it was a lot cooler back then than it is when I see it now.

One show I really liked a lot was “How the States Got Their Shapes” on the History Channel.  The book by the same name authored by Mark Stein is incredibly precise and detailed on all parts of all borders in every U.S. state.  It is really cool and if you are a nerd like me I suggest you get it.  The show, hosted by Brian Unger is very entertaining.

Games –

This is a simple Google search away. You can find dozens of sites with good geography games you can play on your computer or your phone when you are not studying History Made Simple.



Books and Magazines –

It is obvious that I love books.  Be on the lookout for book recommendations from this blog.  My favorite book to learn geography AND history with is Atlas of World History by Patrick O’Brien (ISBN – 13 : 9780199746538)

It is cool to knock out two birds with one stone and I can do that with this book.  Nearly every single subject you can think of, from movements of early people to the Vietnam War to the Protestant Reformation is covered with really good maps.

There are many different Atlas books you can buy or borrow from the library that will cover certain subjects.  I would suggest owning the Atlas mentioned above.  It is worth it.

You can also read ANY National Graphic magazine article and learn some random information from some crazy part of the world.  This is a GREAT magazine.








Presidents, Wars, and Whatnot. Must Know – American History


There are some basic things that need to be known in order to progress in a subject.  When it comes to American History, I would say that knowing the names and dates of the U.S. Presidents and the names and dates of U.S.-involved wars is absolutely vital.


Presidents are not god-emperors like Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire but they are still incredibly important.  If you have a solid grasp of the presidents and their respective dates in office you will most likely be leaps and bounds over your fellow students or the person you are having a (hopefully respectful) political debate with.

Presidential terms, as outlined in Article II of the U.S. Constitution, are for 4 years.  This is a blessing for those studying history.  Unlike other governments, such as those in the United Kingdom, the U.S. government goes along a relatively easy-to-follow line.  A president can serve for as long as 8 years. (It is technically 10 years as per the 22nd Amendment, but that for a Vice President who takes over a President’s term etc…)

Let’s start with George Washington.  He became president in 1789, when the U.S. Constitution went into effect.  He served for two terms setting the precedent for all other multi-term presidents until Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran and was elected to a 3rd and 4th term.  John Adams, the nation’s first Vice President, was elected over Thomas Jefferson in 1796 and began his term in 1797.  He served from 1797 until 1801 when Thomas Jefferson became president after winning the election of 1800. Jefferson served for two terms.

Washington 1789-1797  / Adams 1797-1801 /  Jefferson 1801-1809

The presidential years are easy if one remembers a term is 4 years and most presidents served either one or two full terms.  It gets a bit tricky when a president fails to serve a full term due to a natural death, an assassination, a resignation, or an impeachment.

The U.S. has had several presidents who have failed to serve their terms in office.  Let’s take a look at the first president to die in office.

William Henry Harrison, hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe.  Remember, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”?  We’ll get to that interesting campaign another day.  Just know that Harrison won the election of 1840 over President Martin Van Buren.  President Harrison served just one month in office, dying of complications from pneumonia.  His Vice President, John Tyler assumed the presidency, with some controversy, and finished out the 4 year term in office.  President Tyler did not run for re-election.  (You could say re-election, since he was elected as Vice President.  Still, he was not elected in his own right.)

William Henry Harrison 1841 – 1841 / John Tyler 1841-1845

Let’s take a look at one more president, the second to die in office and the first to be assassinated, President Abraham Lincoln.  President Lincoln won the contentious election of 1860 and became president in 1861.  Lincoln won the 1864 election and began his second term in 1865. Shortly after he was famously assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. Lincoln’s Vice President Andrew Johnson took over as the 17th president upon Lincoln’s death.  (President Johnson is the first president to survive impeachment.  The second is Bill Clinton. President Nixon was threatened with impeachment and resigned.  Impeachment does not mean getting thrown out of office.  It is only a step towards that.)

Lincoln 1861-1865 / Johnson 1865-1869

(Lincoln served a full 4 year term plus 42 days of his 2nd term.)

Look up information on the presidents who did not finish serving their terms in one way or another.  They are W.H. Harrison, Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, F.Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Nixon.


The US wars are easier to remember.  There are less wars than there are presidents, thankfully.  The wars are more exciting, depending on your point of view. The wars should be linked in your mind to the presidents that they were conducted under as the President is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces as per Article II of the Constitution.  This is a relatively simple list of the MAJOR wars that every American should know. There are many, many smaller conflicts but such a list would make History Made Simple much less simple.

The dates below mark the year the United States got involved in the war.

Revolutionary War 1775-1783 No President (no Constitution yet)

Barbary Wars 1801-1805  President Thomas Jefferson 3rd President

This was the United States’ first overseas war if one does not count American Continental naval battles near Great Britain.

War of 1812 -1815  President James Madison 4th President.

The war should have ended at the end of 1814 but communications did not reach General Jackson (future 7th president) in time.  His forces beat the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

U.S. Mexican War 1846 – 1848  President James K. Polk 11th President.

The victory gave the United States possession of the modern states of CA, NV, UT, AZ, NM, and parts of others.

US Civil War 1861-1865 President Abraham Lincoln 16th President, President Andrew Johnson 17th President.

President Lincoln was assassinated shortly before the end of the Civil War.  Since the Confederacy did not fight over control of the government but rather tried to form their own, the term “civil war” may not be completely correct.  Other names for this conflict are “The War Between the States,” and in Southern states “The War of Northern Aggression.”

Spanish American War 1898 President William McKinley 25th President

The Spanish American War was a humiliation for Spain.  It was the beginning of the rise of the United States as a world military power.  Places such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam came into the sway of United States influence.

World War I 1917-1918 President Woodrow Wilson 28th President

The world conflict began in August of 1914 but “Johnny Come Lately” did not enter the fray until 1917. This conflict was known as the “Great War” until WWII began 20 years later.

World War II 1941-1945 President Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd President – President Harry S. Truman 33rd President.

The United States officially entered the war in December 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The war famously began in Europe when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939.  In Asia it can be said that the war began with Japanese aggression against China as early as 1931. (Most date the beginning of WWII in 1939.)

Korean War 1950-1953 Harry S. Truman 33rd President – Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th President.

A “police action” initiated by the U.S. under the U.N. and the first “hot war” during the Cold War, the Korean War has never officially ended.  U.S. troops remain securing South Korea from communist North Korea.

Vietnam War 1964-1975 President Lyndon B. Johnson 37th President – Richard M. Nixon 38th President

The conflict in Vietnam can be traced back a long way.  U.S. involvement with French Indochina, as it was called under occupation by France, can be traced before President Eisenhower.  The official U.S. involvement date is 1964 under the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in Congress.

The Gulf War 1990-1991 President George H.W. Bush 41st President

The U.S. decidedly beat Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces.  Saddam Hussein was weakened but left in power.

War in Afghanistan 2001-2014 George W. Bush 43rd President – Barack H. Obama 44th President

A reaction to the terror events of September 11, 2001, the war in Afghanistan was ended by President Obama in 2014.  Still, U.S. forces remain fighting in Afghanistan.

Iraq War 2003-2011 George W. Bush 43rd President – Barack H. Obama 44th President

The “Shock and Awe” campaign and traditional invasion was devastating and successful but the conflict dragged on until it was officially ended by President Obama in 2011.  Still, U.S. forces remain fighting in Iraq.