1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
Salt comes from the north, gold from the south, and silver from the country of the white men, but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu.
—An old West African proverb
For many people, Timbuktu is a metaphor for the mysterious, the remote, or the unobtainable. But the Malian city of Timbuktu was, in fact, once a thriving center of commerce and intellectual activity. Situated along the Niger River on the edge of the Sahara Desert, it was a crossroads of trade routes stretching as far away as Cairo. At its peak in the 16th century, its universities drew scholars from many great cities of the Islamic world. Today, Timbuktu is but a shadow of its former glory, its ancient mosques and precious manuscripts threatened by desert sands and other factors, environmental and manmade. Fortunately, steps are being taken to preserve the city's fabulous past.
In the lessons of this curriculum unit, students will learn about the geography of Mali and the early trade networks that flourished there. They will study how the spread of Islam influenced the cultures and economies along the Niger River. They will find out about the three kingdoms that evolved in ancient and medieval West Africa. They will discover how Timbuktu rose from a simple watering place to the most important city in Islamic West Africa. And they will find out what is being done today to protect the city's antiquities.
Read each lesson and/or activity. Select appropriate materials to use in class discussions and bookmark them. Download and print out the selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. You might wish to visit the following websites for general background information:
Unless indicated otherwise, all websites in this lesson are available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource National Geographic Xpeditions.
When reference is made during these lessons to taking a photo ("photo op"), the student should consider downloading relevant graphics for his presentation.
Lesson 1: Trekking to Timbuktu: The Geography of Mali--Teacher Version
Lesson 2: Trekking to Timbuktu: Trade in Ancient West Africa--Teacher Version
Lesson 3: Trekking to Timbuktu: Timbuktu: A Center of Trade--Teacher Version
Lesson 4: Trekking to Timbuktu: Mansa Musa Takes a Trip--Teacher Version
Lesson 5: Trekking to Timbuktu: Timbuktu's Golden Age of Scholarship--Teacher Version
Lesson 6: Trekking to Timbuktu: The Search for Timbuktu--Teacher Version
Lesson 7: Trekking to Timbuktu: Restoring the Past--Teacher Version
Lesson 8: Trekking to Timbuktu: Assessment of Lessons 1-7--Teacher Version
Note: The suggested lessons can be taught either separately (as "stand-alone" units) or consecutively as an entire curriculum unit.