Lesson Plan

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

Timbuktu from the terrace of the traveller's house in 1858.
Photo caption

Timbuktu from the terrace of the traveller's house in 1858.

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

How did the Songhai Empire come to be?

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

What was taught in the schools of Timbuktu?

What books were used and for what purpose?

Learning Objectives

Identify the empire of Songhai and describe Timbuktu's role in its economy.

Evaluate the extent to which Timbuktu became an important spiritual and intellectual center of Islam.

Analyze the contributions of Islamic schools in Timbuktu.

Evaluate how manuscripts were produced and used in Timbuktu.