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Big Era Four: Landscape Unit 4.3

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Migration and Change in Africa South of the Sahara
1000 BCE - 200 BCE

Why This Unit?

Africa is often presented to students as a place outside of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nonetheless, the myth of an Africa “without history” still carries much weight. In this Landscape Teaching Unit, students will find evidence to counter the myth. Africa, it turns out, contributed much more to the human race than simply its existence. Big Era Four saw a good deal of innovation in, among other things, ironworking technology and agriculture. Also, the era marked the linkage of East Africa to Indian Ocean trade networks.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1.) Use textual, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to draw conclusions about history.

2.) Chart patterns of diffusion of ironworking technology in Africa.

3.) Weigh the validity of historical arguments using evidence.

4.) Examine the broad contours of the spread of agriculture in Africa south of the Sahara in the last millennium BCE and the first millennium CE.

5.) Weigh the costs and benefits of a society’s transition to agriculture.

6.) Document the role of African cities in long-distance trade networks.

7.) Explore the relationship between economic diversity and social stability.


Time and Materials

4-8 class periods of 50 minutes, depending on balance between homework and class work.

Required materials are photocopies, writing materials, and overhead projector. The unit contains enough background material for students to complete the lessons. That said, there is nothing wrong with preparing students for the unit activities at hand by giving them supplemental historical materials to read. Teachers should be aware, however, that student textbooks might in some respects contradict the material included in this unit. Also, textbooks may draw different conclusions from those of the unit author. This unit is based on relatively recent scholarship, some of which may not have filtered down to middle or high school textbooks. Teachers should not, on the other hand, shy away from contradictory evidence and interpretation. Such differences between scholars and the reasons for these differences can make for great class discussion.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context


This unit in the Big Era time line


Lesson 1: Peoples Without History?


Lesson 2: Ironworking: Innovation and Diffusion in Africa


Lesson 3: Agriculture: Telling the Story of Settling Down


Lesson 4: The Commercial Revolution in Africa


This unit and the Three Essential Questions


This unit and the Seven Key Themes


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards and to Textbooks


Conceptual links to other lessons


Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format


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