I ran across this 5 year old article courtesy of a few recent tweets:
What surprises me is that it’s about education and pedagogy that starts off with a vignette in which Kate Bowles talks about the unknown purpose of Stonehenge.
But I’ve been doing some serious reading on the humanities relating to memory, history, and indigenous cultures over the last few years. It dawns on me:
I know what those stones are for!
A serious answer provided by Australian science and memory researcher Dr. Lynne Kelly indicates that Stonehenge and similar monolithic sites built by indigenous cultures across the world are–in fact–pedagogic tools!!
We’ve largely lost a lot of the roots of our ancient mnemonic devices through gradual mis- and dis-use as well as significant pedagogic changes by Petrus Ramus, an influential French dialectician, humanist, logician, and educational reformer. Scholar Frances Yates indicated in The Art of Memory that his influential changes in the mid-1500’s disassociated memory methods including the method of loci, which dated back to ancient Greece, from the practice of rhetoric as a field of study. As a result we’ve lost a fantastic tradition that made teaching and the problem of memory far worse.
Fortunately Lynne Kelly gives a fairly comprehensive overview of indigenous cultures across human history and their use of these methods along with evidence in her book Memory Code which is based on her Ph.D. thesis. Even better, she didn’t stop there and she wrote a follow up book that explores the use of these methods and places them into a modern pedagogy setting and provides some prescriptive uses.
I might suggest that instead of looking forward to technology as the basis of solutions in education, that instead we look back—not just to our past or even our pre-industrial past, but back to our pre-agrarian past.
Let’s look back to the tremendous wealth of indigenous tribes the world over that modern society has eschewed as “superstitious” and “simple”. In reality, they had incredibly sophisticated oral stories and systems that they stored in even more sophisticated memory techniques. Let’s relearn and reuse those techniques to make ourselves better teachers and improve our student’s ability to learn and retain the material with which they’re working.
Once we’ve learned to better tap our own memories, we’ll realize how horribly wrong we’ve been for not just decades but centuries.
This has been hard earned knowledge for me, but now that I’ve got it, I feel compelled to share it. I’m happy to chat with people about these ideas to accelerate their growth, but I’d recommend getting them from the source and reading Dr. Kelly’s work directly. (Particularly her work with indigenous peoples of Australia, who helped to unlock a large piece of the puzzle for her.) Then let’s work together to rebuild the ancient edifices that our ancestors tried so desperately to hand down, but we’ve managed to completely forget.
The historical and archaeological record:
The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments by Dr. Lynne Kelly
A variety of methods and teaching examples:
Memory Craft: Improve Your Memory with the Most Powerful Methods in History by Dr. Lynne Kelly
Annotated on April 26, 2020 at 08:34PM