Long corridors as memory palaces

Corridors are perfect to use as memory palaces – once they are decorated in a structured way. So why do we waste the corridors in schools and universities when they could become such valuable spaces? Usually, if there are any decorations, they are just nice pictures or random posters.

I was pointed to the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace in Beijing by a reader of The Memory Code. It is a superb use of a corridor as a memory palace.

Click on the image below to go to the Wikipedia entry about it.


I finally found a book showing the images and simply adore it. This covered walkway is found in the Summer Palace in Beijing. It dates from the middle of the 18th century. At 728 metres long, it is decorated with more than 14,000 gorgeous paintings. These tell stories – the entire structure acting as a sensational memory palace.


Why not use school and university spaces as memory palaces?

Instead of numbering rooms as dull old 1, 2, 3 … why not 5000 BC, 4000 BC, 3000 BC … and use the spaces between for images suiting that time period. Students will recall where they saw Stonehenge, for example, and associate it with the area around 5000 BC. Or number the rooms for the last few hundred years and illustrate more recent events chronologically?

How about naming the rooms by letter a, b, c … and add images for the words in a foreign language? Or new words in English?

Why not have the students do the images in art? All indigenous cultures integrate art as a key component of the knowledge system. Our even include small videos recording songs composed by students to store knowledge? The ever changing display will attract attention.

It is well known in educational circles that taking information in one form, say writing, and adapting it to another form, say images or music, makes it more memorable. You need to concentrate and know the information well to creatively adapt it. The only limits are imagination – and schools all have art and music teachers and a mob of creative types who can help set the imaginations of students on a wild spree.

A memory palace must be structured – not just an array of paintings or a set of songs. Without structure it is just another gallery display.

And while we are at it – why not use the school grounds as memory palaces as well – just like the Australian Aboriginal songlines and Native American pilgrimage trails? And none of this needs funding! We can do all of this within the art and music curricula as well as meeting the requirements for every subject in the school. We just need to stop separating knowledge into neat little packages – we need to integrate it.

But what I really want is my very own Long Corridor just like the one in the Summer Palace. Please!

Memory Code workshop

memory workshop

There has been a great enthusiasm from readers of The Memory Code to learn to create memory devices and implement them in their own lives. Twenty people gathered for the first workshop at Castlemaine Library on a Saturday morning. The goal was to learn two different methods inspired by indigenous knowledge experts.

The first technology was to imitate the memory board known as a lukasa from the Luba people of West Africa. Variations of memory boards are found all over the non-literate world. The first stage was to select pieces of wood which had interesting grain which could be used to enhance the visual location of each bead. Then about 120 beads were selected from a large selection, for looks and for touch. Each person chose the beads which most appealed to them. These were then glued onto the boards and left to dry.

library-lukasa-2 library-lukasa-3  library-lukasa-1

We then spent about half an hour creating a memory palace in the participants’ homes. They started encoding the countries of the world in population order to locations within their houses. One has reported back that she got the first 80 in within a week! The information about the countries in each location is infinitely expandable. See Memorising the Periodic Table for the method.

library-lukasa-6We then returned to the lukasas. Each participant had their own ideas about what information they were going to encode to their memory boards. These varied from birds, plants, Australian Prime Ministers and chemical elements to human anatomy. Each worked out the structure of the data they were using – some from sheets I had already prepared, some from lists or books they had brought. We have no elders to teach these things so have to rely on written records as the starting point. This followed the method I talked about in Memorising Birds.

The feedback has been fantastic. People have really engaged with the methods and discovered, as I have, that having information in memory enables you to see bigger patterns, to have the information readily available and ask new questions. And it’s so much fun!

See also:
My 25 Memory Experiments
Starting a Contemporary Songline
Memorising and Understanding History
Memorising Birds
Memorising the Periodic Table