Here’s an interesting game. First, think of a famous person or event that you really don’t know much about. I’ll start with Florence Nightingale. Next, write down every “fact” you can think of associated with this person or event. The idea is to then check yourself: what did you know that was correct, and what was incorrect? Your misconceptions can be as illuminating as your successes.
OK, here goes. I’ll list my “facts” as bullet points for easy analysis.
- …was a nurse
- …administered to the wounded during the Crimean War
- …was a founder (?) or inspiration for (?) the Red Cross
- …lived from 1828 to 1900 (?)
- …was from the UK (?)
That’s about all I can think of. I have no idea whether she married, or had children, or ever had another profession other than nurse. And the years in which she was born and died are entirely guesses, based on the idea that she was roughly 30 (?) during the Crimean War and lived to be 72 (?). I know she lived to old age because I vaguely recall a photo of her as an older woman.
Let’s see how I did:
- …was a nurse TRUE
- …administered to the wounded during the Crimean War TRUE
- …was a founder (?) or inspiration for (?) the Red Cross FALSE
- …lived from 1828 to 1900 (?) CLOSE; the actual dates are 1820-1910
- …was from the UK (?) TRUE
I think I did fairly well. I have no idea why I thought Nightingale was associated with the Red Cross; she was awarded the Royal Red Cross (a nursing award) by Queen Victoria. As for Nightingale’s other achievements, she was also a noted statistician—she was a pioneer in statistical graphics, and among other things popularized the pie chart. She never married nor had any children.
Apart from being fun, this exercise certainly helps one learn. Because of my mistake, I doubt that I will ever associate the Red Cross with Nightingale again.
Let’s try one more:
Captain James Cook…
- …was a navy man
- …was an explorer
- …was killed in Hawaii (?)
- …sailed all the way around Australia (?)
- …explored much of the Pacific Ocean
- …was from the UK
- …lived from 1720 to 1770 (?)
Do you think I did better or worse than I did with Florence Nightingale? Let’s see:
- …was a navy man TRUE
- …was an explorer TRUE
- …was killed in Hawaii (?) TRUE
- …sailed all the way around Australia (?) FALSE (this was actually the achievement of Matthew Flinders)
- …explored much of the Pacific Ocean TRUE
- …was from the UK TRUE
- …lived from 1720 to 1770 (?) CLOSE; the actual dates are 1728-1779
What I missed about Cook is his cartography (especially around Newfoundland) and his circumnavigation of New Zealand. I did correctly remember that the Hawaiians killed him for some reason.
If you’d like to play, here are some suggested topics. I tried to pick some that most people wouldn’t know all that much about.
- The Battle of Kursk
- J. S. Bach
- Coriolanus, by W. Shakespeare
- The kangaroo
- T. S. Eliot