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.








The Layers of British History Up to 1066

British history is not taught in U.S. public school, unless one counts the founding of the 13 colonies as such.  You may think that makes sense since this is the United States and Britain (England, U.K., whatever you call it) is thousands of miles away across the vast Atlantic Ocean.

This is wrong.  The history of the United States relies greatly on the history of Britain, and not just the history of the 1600’s and 1700’s.  I believe that understanding British history is vital to understanding U.S. History and when I say this I mean ancient British history.  The following is a quick overview of the history of the place known as Britain.  Later blogs may deal with the name “Britain” -it came from Brittany, which is in northwest France, but I do not need to confuse you – or the name “England” which came from “An-gel-land” – as in land of the Angles. Another post may deal with the Union Jack flag, which is a combination of three flags.  Another post will….you get the idea.


The British Isles are an archipelago.  This simply means “a group of islands.” There are many tiny islands in this archipelago, the largest being the island consisting of England, Wales, and Scotland in the east, and the island consisting of Ireland, which today is divided into the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, in the north (obviously).  This post will concern itself mainly with the people of the large island.  Ireland has its own distinct history, for the most part. You should probably break out a map if you are unfamiliar with the geography of the British Isles and their location in relation to mainland Europe.


The British isles can be divided into several distinct eras of occupation from B.C. (B.C.E.) all the way through to the year 1066.

Celtic Britain –  Celtic = “K”eltic, hard “C” not like the “Boston Celtics.”  The Celtic people populated all of Europe and much of the British Isles.  It is possible that the Celts migrated by foot from mainland Europe when the ocean level was lower and the island was connected to modern-day France.  It is also possible that the Celts built boats and traveled the 23 or so miles across what we call the “English Channel.”

Either way, there were people in the British Isles for a very long time.  These people built the famous Stonehenge which is west of London.  Not a lot is known about these Celtic people. It is simply important to know OF them.

Roman Britain – The same people who built the Roman Republic and Roman Empire brought parts of the British Isles under their sway. The British Isles were on the outside of the Roman’s known world.  The first Romans to make their way into this area were lead by the famous Julius Caesar in 55-54 B.C. Caesar was a general at this time and not yet dictator. He was conquering Gaul, roughly modern-day France.  Britain was really “Romanized” after Roman Emperor Claudius launched his conquest in 43 A.D.

It is right to say that the Romans “civilized” Britain. It is also a knock on the culture that we do not know a lot about as they had a civilization too.  It can’t be argued that the Romans modernized Britain. Writing became more widespread as did larger buildings. The southern part of the British Isles became a Roman province through 440 A.D.

Anglo-Saxon Britain – The Romans had a lot of problems in the 5th Century A.D.  People such as Attila the Hun were attempting to sack Rome.  Rome had to defend its interior and the British Isles became less important.  When the Romans left other people moved in.  People called Picts from modern-day Scotland in the north and Scots from Ireland in the west invaded the south (yes, I know that is confusing – we have established that this is a confusing subject.)  Germanic tribes called, in general, the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons invaded from the east. These people invaded from the area roughly of modern-day Denmark and northern Germany.

The Angles and Saxons eventually controlled most of eastern and central Britain. Anglo-Saxon was a term that eventually encompassed all of the English people. The famous King Alfred the Great ruled this land at the turn of the 9th century.

Norman England – The final era covered is that of the Normans.  Their name comes from “north men” meaning what we would consider Vikings.  Long story short, Vikings invaded lots of places, including modern-day France.  The king of France was relatively weak militarily so he let these Viking north men stay in the northern part of France that today is called Normandy. (Normandy is most famous today as the site of the D-Day invasion of WWII, June 6 1944)

After a couple of hundred years these Vikings were French-ified (no, not a real word).  They were still a distinct people but they spoke French and had a similar culture to the French.  This is where the famous date of 1066 comes in to play.

In January 1066 Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor dies. Harold Godwinson claims his crown but so does a man named William, Duke of Normandy (leader of the French-ified Vikings). William claimed that Edward promised him the crown upon his death.  The only way to solve this would be through battle so a war ensued. Between Harold and William….

But there is another Harold.  Harold Hardrata, King of Norway and brother-in-law of Harold Godwinson, invades northern England.  Hardrata is defeated by Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in late September.  Godwinson then had to rush down south to meet in invading Normans led by William.  Godwinson left a large part of his army in the north. The armies met at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th of October.  William and the Normans were victorious.  This is the last time that the British Isles have been successfully invaded.

William became King on Christmas day 1066.  He is called William I, William the Conqueror, William the Bastard (yes).  The Norman conquest of Britain totally changed the culture of the British Isles and the history of the world.


There are so many cool stories in this history.  I covered over 1000 years in a few paragraphs.  I may have skipped a few names….  I would suggest picking up a copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain.  It is a wonderful book and, at just under 600 pages it is not a huge volume for the subject matter that it covers.  I would also suggest listening to the podcast “The What-Ifs of 1066” on Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast.  It makes you really feel for the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold Godwinson.  KingHarold





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.




2 Recommended Podcasts

History should be fun to learn.  It should not be a drag.  These two podcasts definitely show how exciting and interesting history really is.  These podcasts are entertaining first and foremost.  You will not feel like you are learning, you will feel your imagination run wild visualizing the interaction of historical characters with their life events.  I cannot recommend these podcasts highly enough.  This is history podcasting at its finest!

  1. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History http://www.dancarlin.com

Dan Carlin is a master of the spoken word.  His Hardcore History podcast is nothing short of incredible. My favorite is the 3-part series “King of Kings,” which covers the rise of the Persian Cyrus the Great to the death of Macedonian King Alexander the Great and everything in between (you know, like the famous 300 at the battle of Thermopylae.)

2. Daniele Bolelli’s History on Fire http://www.historyonfirepodcast.com

Daniele Bolelli is an interesting guy with a wonderful podcast.  He is a great storyteller.  History on Fire is well worth your time. My favorite episode is of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries running for their lives when the “wrong side” was victorious in a Persian civil war, as told by Xenephon.

To find these and any of the thousands of podcasts directly, simply search your iPod or iPhone’s podcast listings under the purple icon labeled “podcasts.”



History Made Simple

This is the post excerpt.

History Made Simple is a history blog that can help students in 4th grade through College.  HMS can also help teach their parents a thing or two.  If you are interested in history or simply want to learn more history but don’t know where to turn, look no further.

The focus of this blog will be United States history, European history, and a bit of World history thrown in for good measure.

Why is history important?

History is important for students because no matter what subject a student decides to major in at college, history classes will be mandatory at some point.  History is intertwined in all humanities majors and it shows up in many others.

History is important for everybody because having a grounding in history makes one a better citizen of his or her country and a better citizen of the world.

Have fun.  Learn history. Be a better student. Be a better, more well-rounded person.