Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 5: Trekking to Timbuktu: Timbuktu's Golden Age of Scholarship (Student Version)

Created November 19, 2010

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Timbuktu French Map

1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

Timbuktu reached its peak as a center of Islamic culture and scholarship in the 16th century. This was its Golden Age. It was now a major city in the Songhai Empire. Of the city's population of nearly 100,000, a quarter were students and scholars. Many of these came from other parts of the Islamic world to study or teach at the cities many madrasas (Islamic schools) and its three universities, the most renowned being that associated with the Sankore Mosque.

You've traveled through time to the 16th century. You're in Timbuktu, disguised as a student from Cairo. You've come to study with a scholar at Sankore. You true task is to learn why and how Timbuktu became a great center of Islamic scholarship. You can take notes

on the sheets of papyrus you've picked up in Egypt.

Guiding Questions

Timbuktu reached its peak as a center of Islamic culture and scholarship in the 16th century. This was its Golden Age. It was now a major city in the Songhai Empire. Of the city's population of nearly 100,000, a quarter were students and scholars. Many of these came from other parts of the Islamic world to study or teach at the cities many madrasas (Islamic schools) and its three universities, the most renowned being that associated with the Sankore Mosque.

You've traveled through time to the 16th century. You're in Timbuktu, disguised as a student from Cairo. You've come to study with a scholar at Sankore. You true task is to learn why and how Timbuktu became a great center of Islamic scholarship. You can take notes

on the sheets of papyrus you've picked up in Egypt.

As you prepare for this adventure, bear the following questions in mind:

What was the Songhai Empire?

What factors made Timbuktu a spiritual and intellectual center of Islam?

What were the schools there like?

What books were used?

Learning Objectives

Your long-term goal is the report you will prepare for the producers of Globe Trekker that will convince them that Timbuktu is the perfect spot for an upcoming episode. Since you've visiting the city in its Golden Age, you should find a lot of really important data. Once you're done with this segment, you should be able to

  • Identify the empire of Songhai and describe Timbuktu's role in its economy
  • Understand how Timbuktu became an important spiritual and intellectual center of Islam
  • Describe the Islamic schools of Timbuktu
  • Understand how manuscripts were produced and used in Timbuktu

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Songhai

In the 15th century, the leaders of a kingdom known as the Songhai (also spelled Songhay) began expanding their domain along the Niger River. Like the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali that flourished in the region in earlier centuries, Songhai grew powerful because of its control of local trade routes. Timbuktu would soon become the heart of the mighty Songhai Empire.

You know that Timbuktu was once a part of Songhai. But what was Songhai? Better find out

before you meet your teachers at Sankore!

  • Access Empires of the Western Sudan. Click on the map to enlarge it. Find Timbuktu. This empire is much larger than Ghana and Mali ever were.
  • Go to Songhay. The sahel was the region between the Sahara Desert and the equatorial rain forest. Think about the ways in which Askia Muhammad strengthened the bonds of Islam in the West African communities. Note that while Islam was practiced in the cities, the majority of local natives were non-Muslims. What types of religious practices might they have pursued?
Activity 2. Universities and Libraries of Timbuktu

Although Songhai's early ruler was not interested in scholarship, his successor, known as Askia Mohamed, certainly was.

Photo op!

  • Access Golden Age. Read the first five paragraphs. Why was Askia Mohamad a hero among the Islamic scholars in Timbuktu?

Make sure you've copied down his name in your notepad!

  • What became a big industry in Timbuktu at this time? What types of courses were taught at Sankore? (A mihrab, referred to in paragraph 6, is a niche or part of the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca.)

How many fellow students will you have? (25,000)

  • Go to Sankore Mosque. How was the “university” at Sankore organized? How did it differ from a European university of the time? What was an imam? What was the primary focus of teaching at Sankore?

Photo op!

  • Now visit Sankore.Who was Ahmed Baba? Why did the challenger to the throne of Songhai give up his pursuit of power?

Every school needs lots of books. What kinds of books were used at Sankore?

  • Access Manuscripts. Where were most of the books produced? What subjects did the local scholars write about? How important were the private libraries? How many collections remain in the city (in the 21st century)?

Photo op!

Location Scouting Summary: Time Traveller

Remember, you are disguised as a student. Now that you know all about Sankore, you are ready to meet your imam. Think about the kinds of things you will study with him. Imagine what a typical day will be as a student in Timbuktu. Then write a feature article—for the people back home at Globe Trekker headquarters—entitled, “A Day in the Life of a Student at Sankore University, Timbuktu, in the year 1550.”

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Africa
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • History and Social Studies
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
Skills
  • Analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
Authors
  • Suzanne Art (AL)

Resources

Media